Adrian Francis and Paper City: Preserving the Fading History of the Tokyo Firebombing

Why the victims of the tragic firebombing of Tokyo have yet to receive the recognition they deserve

Anthony Griffin
Kokoro Media
Published in
8 min readMar 7, 2023

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“We who have witnessed the obscenity of war and experienced its horror and terrible consequences have an obligation to rise above our pain and suffering and turn the tragedy of our lives into a triumph.”
-Ron Kovic

The 1945 firebombing of Tokyo by U.S. warplanes is the single most destructive bombing raid in human history. In one night, over 100,000 civilians were killed, a quarter of the city was destroyed, and a million people were left homeless.

Yet, considering the magnitude of this tragedy, the firebombing of Tokyo is rarely acknowledged — let alone memorialized — in the public consciousness, especially when compared to the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It was this incongruency that inspired award-winning filmmaker Adrian Francis to write and direct his first feature-length film, Paper City, which chronicles three air-raid survivors as they struggle to preserve a public record of their experiences before they pass away.

In this interview, Adrian shares his inspiration for the film, the unique challenges he faced as a filmmaker in Japan, and his thoughts on why the tragic firebombing of Tokyo has yet to receive the recognition it deserves.

Searching for a Place in History

Over 100,000 people were killed, a million people were made homeless, and a quarter of the city was destroyed in a single nighttime air attack on March 10, 1945.

What inspired you to write and direct Paper City?

I was born in Australia, and in high school, the version of World War II that I studied focused heavily on allied victories, allied bravery, and the cruelty inflicted upon prisoners of war and civilians at the hands of the Japanese Imperial Army. Of course, I learned about Hiroshima and Nagasaki as well. However, I didn’t know anything beyond a vague notion about the bombing of Japanese cities in conventional air raids.

I had already been living in Japan for a few years when I watched The Fog of War, a…

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Anthony Griffin
Kokoro Media

Founder and principal consultant (www.consultsaga.com) helping Japan-based organizations market to and communicate with international audiences.