- When Japan surrendered to the United States in 1945, numerous swords were taken from Japanese soldiers and given to American officers stationed in the Pacific. Paul Ufema is a documentary filmmaker whose grandfather was an officer in the US Navy awarded with 3 Japanese swords. These swords were passed down to Paul’s father and eventually to him and his brothers. For many years, the swords sat in the basement collecting dust until Paul decided to team up with fellow documentary filmmaker Brad Bennett to see if they could return the swords to their rightful owners in Japan.
- Their film Forgive – Don’t Forget follows the journey of one particular sword and attempts to examine the theme of forgiveness and the dynamics between Japan and America since the end of World War II.
Getting a Samurai Sword Back to its Owner
In 1945 when the war ended, numerous swords were taken and given to US officers in the Pacific. Two documentary filmmakers Paul Ufema and Brad Bennett team up to trace their pursuit of returning one of these swords to their rightful owners.
Paul’s grandfather lived through World War 2 and got 4 swords – but nobody knows how he got the swords. Paul was given one of the swords when he became older while the rest was passed down to other male family members. Each sword had a particular look and the one Paul got was very light and thin. It also had a wooden tag attached to a wire. Brad had the sword checked by a sword expert and he confirmed it was forged by hand, with the handle made of shark skin. Its details also showed how much time and craftsmanship went into creating it. It was also quite rare given that it had a name tag as if the owner hoped it would be returned to him.
Having collaborated on different film projects, Paul shared his idea of returning the sword and documenting the process to Brad when his research left him blank on how to proceed. Luckily, Brad’s Japanese grandmother was already living in the US. So they interviewed her and asked her to read the carved name on the wooden tag.
The tag included the owner’s rank that indicated him to be part of the military navy. Inside the sheath covering the sword were markings in Kanji that indicated where the owner was once stationed. These markings allowed them to trace back its roots by asking someone in Japan to translate the characters. They also interviewed many people including several exchange students and a fellow in Harvard to trace down possible owners through record and history books.
Their team made it a point to come to Japan not just to search for the family but also to hear Japanese people’s views on whether the swords should be returned or not. They believed that talking to several people would help establish their credibility. They also wanted to solicit the opinion of regular people on the street to see if they are receptive to the idea. They also expect that family and some people may not want them to come and they would like to find out why.
Regardless of whether the sword can be returned or not, getting the sword to Japan would make a phenomenal story. But they would need some funding to do so. If people would like to donate, visit their webpage Forgive Don’t Forget at Kickstarter where their artist and photographer friends are also selling their premiere works and where you can make a pledge of help.