Tree Project (work in progress)


A Feature length Film by Hiroshi Sunairi
Work in Progress
Produced by Joel Kimbeck and Jill Godmilow



There are 20 kinds of Hibaku trees – trees that have somehow survived the atomic bombing of Hiroshima: Gingko, Persimmon, Camphor, Camellia, Plane, Weeping Willow, Fern Palm, Hackberry, Elaeagnus, Kurogane Holly, Crape Myrtle, Eucalypt, Common Catalpa, Peony, Black Pine, Muku, Apricot, Citrus, Pyramid Juniper, Cherry Blossom, Tilia Miqueliana, and Chinese Parasol Tree. These trees hold up this film. Chikara Horiguchi is the tree doctor responsible for keeping all 170 Hibaku trees alive – both physically and spiritually. From a meeting between filmmaker Sunairi and Horiguchi, Tree Project came about – a system of disseminating Hibaku seeds to grow a crucial 2nd generation of survivor trees in country after country, around the world, so there will always be people who remember and understand – the meaning of Hiroshima.


One sunny day, through the chirping of cicadas, a boy is riding his bike in the city in Hiroshima. Three B-52s fly across the bright sky. He does not know then that within 10 seconds, the atom bomb would be dropped on his city. The sound of explosion reverberates. Everywhere it is dark. The screen is black. Text rolls: People are… animals are… houses are… all are floating in the air.  Flash! Pedestrians crossing the road – women, boys, even horses – turn into ashes and vapor. That day Hiroshima, a lively village, becomes into a living hell. “Nothing would ever grow there again… at least not for 75 years.”

But in 1946, one year later, a Chinese Parasol tree that looked very dead, sprouted leaves. This site gave the survivors hope and courage.

There are 170 trees that survived the atomic bombing in Hiroshima and almost all of them live to this day. They are called Hibaku (A-bombed) trees and stand like sentinels, holding up the film, like bones. We stand for a minute or two in front of a Hibaku – let’s say a 50 foot high Gingko – and contemplate its endurance, its will to live, its ability to generate seeds. The trees stand, even in intense industrial landscapes, among traffic, cables, and denser and denser building construction. Each tree carries a plaque that lists, among other data, its distance from the hypocenter… ground zero.

Among these trees, a portrait of Dr. Chikara Horiguchi develops. We follow his work as an arboriculturist – pruning, treating the trees, and telling the history of the trees… the location of their scars, deformation and their treatment. Importantly, we can learn from him the meaning of the Hibaku trees. As Horiguchi tells it, “They have the potential to send a message to the world about the resilience of nature through their survival.”

A two-minute long shot on a scarred, probably dying, Jujube tree.

In 2015, the filmmaker/artist, Hiroshi Sunairi, was commissioned to make an installation at a Hiroshima museum for the 66th anniversary of the atomic bomb. He wanted to fill a sculpture of a life-size elephant – a symbol of memory – with refuse from the bomb – toys, appliances, furniture, and clothes – but most of this debris had already been donated to the Peace Memorial Museum collection. Sunairi had met Horiguchi at a lecture on the Hibaku trees. This first meeting turned into collaboration. In Sunairi’s “A Night of Elephant”, the sculpture was filled with Hibaku tree prunings… a truck full. The dried leaves filled the gallery with an herbal scent. Though the sculpture recalled a sleeping elephant in the dark, the audience expressed the feeling that they had been energized being there with this giant.

A healthy camphor tree towers in an elementary school playground.

The Tree Project developed out of that first collaboration. Sunairi welcomes people from all over the world to receive a Hibaku seed, or seeds, supplied by Horiguchi – and to nurture them to maturity, and then, when the trees are mature, to plant them in their gardens or in public spaces. And he archives the documentations of the participants with their own Hibaku seed seedlings. Today there are over 100 second-generation Hibaku trees growing in the world.

The image of an enormous Weeping Willow; its survival plaque reads: “Having been A-bombed, this tree once collapsed, but new life sprouted from the remaining root. Out of all the Hibaku trees, this was closest to the hypocenter… 370 meters… about 328 yards.”

Director’s Statement:

Bernd and Hilla Becher, a German couple, using an 8 x 10 view camera, photographed industrial buildings and structures from a straightforward “objective” point of view, documenting industrial modernity of a certain era. I’m fascinated by these photographs, and in the same way, by the films of James Benning and Chantal Ackerman. These filmmakers are known for their use of long, held, stable takes, suggesting a fixed stare at landscapes loaded with historical, ecological and social dimensions. Speaking of her film From The Other Side, Chantal says she wants to burn her images into her audiences’ eyes and memory.


The Bones is inspired by the trees in time – history-ridden objects in landscapes. Thus, the film’s core structure, the Hibaku tree shots, are stable, objective, long takes, offering up the tree’s full body, its health, its location and the weather of that particular day. The film utilizes the smallest possible camera aperture to produce sharp focus in depth, as in the pure objective documentation of the Bechers’ works. The audience finds itself in front of these trees, sometimes in peaceful environmental sound, sometimes in abusive metropolitan noise, revealing each situation the trees withstand. Overall, the film consists of simple elements, but with precise and meaningful compositions.

“Having been A-bombed, this tree once collapsed, but new life sprouted from the remaining root.
Out of all the Hibaku trees, this was closest to the hypocenter… 370 meters… about 328 yards.”


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