Paper City

Just after midnight on March 10, 1945, the US launched a massive air raid on Tokyo, unleashing a firestorm on this dense area of wooden and paper houses. By sunrise, more than 100,000 people were dead, and a quarter of the city destroyed—the most destructive air raid in history.

Unlike their loved ones, Mr Hoshino, Mrs Kiyooka and Mr Tsukiyama emerged alive. For years they have campaigned for a public memorial, a museum, and some token compensation for civilians who lost everything. But the Japanese government has refused to formally acknowledge their appeals, and after seven decades, they find themselves cast aside—while former soldiers have been treated generously by the state.

PAPER CITY follows the survivors as they launch a final campaign to leave behind a record of this forgotten tragedy—before the last of them passes away. Weaving harrowing testimonies, rarely-seen archive, and modern-day advocacy, it’s an exploration of trauma, remembrance and the state’s role in gatekeeping accounts of history.

  • Adrian Francis
    Lesson From The Night (short documentary)
  • Adrian Francis
    Lessons From The Night (short documentary)
  • Melanie Brunt
    The Orchestra (short animation), Lessons From The Night (short documentary)
  • Simon Walbrook
  • Brett Ludeman
  • Emma Bortignon
    Sound Design
  • Lachlan Harris
    Sound Design
  • Project Type:
    Documentary, Feature
  • Genres:
    Social Justice, History, War, Humanitarian
  • Runtime:
    1 hour 20 minutes
  • Completion Date:
    August 14, 2021
  • Country of Origin:
  • Country of Filming:
  • Language:
    English, Japanese
  • Shooting Format:
    Blackmagic, Red
  • Aspect Ratio:
  • Film Color:
    Black & White and Color
  • First-time Filmmaker:
  • Student Project:
  • Melbourne International Film Festival
    August 16, 2021
    World Premiere in August
  • Santa Barbara International Film Festival
    United States
    March 3, 2022
    US Premiere
  • Full Frame Documentary Film Festival
    North Carolina
    United States
  • Nippon Connection - Japanese Film Festival
    European Premiere
  • Melbourne Documentary Film Festival
    July 1, 2022
    Winner Best Melbourne Documentary. Winner Best Emerging Director - Adrian Francis
  • The Rasnov Histories and Film Festival
    August 19, 2022
    Romanian Premiere
    Official Selection
  • Newburyport Documentary Film Festival
    United States
    September 16, 2022
    Official Selection
  • SimFest International Film & TV Festival

    September 1, 2022
  • Heartland International Film Festival
    United States
    October 1, 2022
  • Africa International Film Festival

    November 1, 2022
  • Barcelona Human Rights Festival
    December 1, 2022
  • Tokyo Documentary Film Festival
    December 1, 2022
    Japan Premiere
  • Tokyo Documentary Film Festival in Osaka
    February 1, 2023
  • Belleville DocFest
    March 1, 2023
Distribution Information
  • ABC Commercial
    Sales Agent
    Country: Worldwide
    Rights: Internet, Video on Demand, Pay Per View, Hotel, Airline, Ship, Video / Disc, Free TV, Paid TV, Console / Handheld Device
Director Biography - Adrian Francis

Originally from Australia, Adrian has lived and worked in Tokyo for 15 years. He majored in documentary film at the Victorian College of the Arts, Melbourne. Working with producer Melanie Brunt, Adrian directed the award-winning documentary short, Lessons from the Night, about an immigrant cleaner, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and won several prizes at the International TV Festival in Montenegro, including the Grand Prix. His short films have screened at major international festivals including AFI Docs, Karlovy Vary, Melbourne and Edinburgh International Film Festivals, Visions du Reel, and Los Angeles Film Festival. Adrian was one of five international directors asked to make a short film for the 5x5x5 project at the 2011 Winterthur International Short Film Festival. He was invited to participate in the Berlinale Talents at the Berlin Film Festival, where he began developing the project that would become Paper City—his first feature-length film.

Add Director Biography
Director Statement

Like many Australians of my generation, I grew up with stories of the cruelty suffered by allied civilians and POWs at the hands of the Japanese military. But apart from Hiroshima and Nagasaki, I was taught nothing about how Japanese civilians experienced the war.

When I first learned of the Tokyo firebombing, I began to wonder about the survivors. Were they still alive? Did they want to talk? Would they prefer to forget?

I began to do some research and found a small private museum dedicated to the air raids. I also contacted a survivors’ group, which for years had been campaigning for the building of a memorial and peace museum, as well as reparations for what civilians had lost.

The thing that first struck me was that many survivors are deeply compelled to speak about what happened—the problem is few want to listen. “Paper City” focuses on three in particular—Mr Hoshino, Mrs Kiyooka, and Mr Tsukiyama. Over a shooting period of two years, they invited us into their homes, lives, and memories. As a filmmaker, I feel privileged to have their stories entrusted to me.

In the end, they just want to leave behind an imprint on the public memory that will outlast their own lives. That desire to leave something behind resonates very strongly with me as a filmmaker, but is fundamental to all of us—to be heard, to be known, to be remembered. I think their greatest fear is that if they don't pass their stories on, the firebombing will soon slip from our consciousness—effectively as if it never happened.