April 1, 2021 marks the 75th anniversary of the 1946 that killed more than 150 people in Hawaii. Waves as high as 55 feet were triggered by a massive earthquake in the Aleutian Islands.
A thriving Japanese business district in Hilo called Shinmachi or “new town” was destroyed.
“Shinmachi: Stronger Than a Tsunami” retells the story of the tsunami that destroyed the town, and how families salvaged what they could to rebuild only to have the district wiped out again by another deadly tsunami in 1960.
Filmmaker Heather Fryer developed the film after visiting Hilo in 2014. She drove by a park with a wooden sign that read “Site of Shinmachi.” But with no nearby buildings, her curiosity peaked and she started asking around. A phone call led to a meeting with Kenneth Kazuto Kamekoa, an individual who had grown up near Shinmachi.
Kamekoa had been collecting stories, mapping where Shinmachi businesses and families were located, gathering photos, and even had artifacts.
According to Fryer they wanted her to learn how, “Shinmachi’s Japanese immigrant families faced hardship with determination, humility, hard work, adaptiveness, and a devotion to the common good that Hilo’s elders wanted their children and grandchildren to know about.”
The film reflects the resilience of the survivors in keeping the spirit of Shinmachi alive today.