On a recent visit to Hawaii, I was able to make the final performance of the new original musical “Peace on Your Wings: 1,000 Cranes… one Wish” produced by Ohana Arts, a Honolulu-based performing arts festival and school organization. The performance was held at the beautiful Honolulu classic venue, Hawaii Theatre Center.
To be honest, after attending the emotionally powerful 70th anniversary of the Hiroshima bombing ceremony, listening to Hibakusha survivor’s speeches, and watching the floating lanterns ceremony in peace park on August 6th; I wasn’t sure what to expect. As a Hiroshima resident of 20 years, I have heard the heartbreaking story of Sadako and her cranes of peace many times. The story has become a main theme of the peace movement, and the children’s monument in her honor is an important aspect of Peace Park. However, I had never seen it portrayed as a play or musical. We were at the performance with our two children- non-Japanese kids who were born and are being raised in Hiroshima and have always gone to public Japanese schools. I was a bit nervous that it would be too sad and serious for us.
The musical tells the story of Sadako Sasaki’s life at the end of elementary school and as she starts junior-high school. She is portrayed as a typical pre-teen whose life is filled with school and community activities and her friends are pre-occupied with the important things in their young lives: study, boys, school events and local festivals.
The play is set around the time of the exciting transition Sadako and her friends are making from Elemenatary to middle school. They are all focused on performing well in the school sports festival and enjoying the community’s Obon summer festival dance, but it is around this time that Sadako becomes ill and is hospitalized for radiation sickness. While her classmates and friends continue their normal everyday lives having fun and arguing about trivial things, Sadako is absent. In her life, she is surrounded by sickness and is worried about her future, but was making close friendships with the other patients in the children’s wing of the hospital. They had to deal with more serious life issues of sickness and survival, as well as love, hope, friendships and loss.
Peace on your wings does portray many sad scenes in this musical, but interestingly they are intermixed with scenes and situations of normal life. To me this was the most interesting and powerful part of the play and brings to light truths of our human existance- one person’s tragedy, dispair and sorrow is often another person’s daily lackluster 9-5. It reminds us to pay attention to the individual stories around us and make efforts to appreciate others and share in a common hope for a better tomorrow.
I had the opportunity to talk with the co-creators of the original musical, Jenny Taira and Laurie Rubin, who co-wrote the book, created the music + lyrics, on stage dialogue, orchestrations and arrangements for this performance. I was impressed with how they had adapted Sadako’s story to connect to a younger audience by adding situations important to teenagers like friendship, bullying, loyalty, school spirit as well as Japanese traditions. I also believe the entire story become more powerful as the audience felt a connection to Sadako as an integrated and active part of her community; a cheerful girl that loved life and supported the people around her. This gave her story so much power. The co-creators said they had done a lot of research on daily life in Japan and had worked hard to create a believable interpretation of what a Japanese teenager’s real life may have been like.
At the performance, Sadako’s brother Masahiro Sasaki attended and gave a speech to the audience before the performance about how meaningful this play was to his family and how much Sadako herself would have loved it. Masahiro’s son Yuji Sasaki, a singer + songwriter, performed an original song before the play. As Masahiro is also depicted in this play about his sister, I wondered if it might be too painful for him to watch, but he was so pleased and moved by the wonderful performance and led the audience in a standing ovation after the finale.
Meet the Cast
The producers, Ohana Arts plan to tour Peace on your Wings around the US and Europe, but a future goal is to bring their musical to Japan. They feel it would be especially significant to perform Sadako’s story in Hiroshima someday. The 38 talented children in this musical all go to school at different schools around Oahu, and range in ages from 6-18. The musical is directed by Cari Lee.