In the realm of jurisprudence, Benjamin Ferencz is truly an icon. He is the last surviving Chief Prosecutor of the Nuremberg Trials and a primary force in the establishment of the International Criminal Court (ICC). And at 95, he shows no signs of slowing down – at least, not in Ullabritt Horn’s documentary on his remarkable life and career.
The directors of this documentary short—Lucy Craft, Karen Kasmauski and Kathryn Tolbert—are journalists whose fathers were U.S. service members stationed in post-World War II Japan and whose mothers were among the tens of thousands of so-called “Japanese war brides.”
The three Japanese women profiled here—Hiroko Furukawa, Emiko Fukumoto and Atsuko Onda—frankly acknowledge to their daughters that they did not marry strictly for romantic reasons, but because they were eager to leave the economic chaos of Japan in favor of the chance of a better life across the Pacific. However, their only knowledge of the American way of life came from movies and the mostly positive impressions of the Americans involved in the occupation period.
Although the U.S. military was initially opposed to these marriages—in many states, interracial marriage was illegal—it quickly realized that it was unable to prevent fraternizing between U.S. military men and Japanese women. The military switched gears and worked to educate the Japanese women on what they should expect in their American lives—albeit with lessons on baking cakes and wearing make-up.
But once they arrived in the U.S., the challenges faced by the women in their new country were significant. Their spouses’ families were not entirely pleased with their presence, while the wider society was not eager to embrace the mixed raced marriages. The women also faced numerous problems in assimilating into the behavioral patterns of their adopted homes, especially when it came to raising children—strict Japanese parental expectations were dramatically out of step with the more leisurely American approach to raising children, which created additional stress in their households.
At 26 minutes, the film barely scratches the surface on the lives of the directors’ mothers or the wider social upheaval created by the war brides. (The thoughts of the men that married them are not recorded in this film.) But, nonetheless, it offers an intriguing glimpse into a long-forgotten chapter of post-World War II history.