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Film project focuses on stories behind debris

  • This undated photo provided by filmmakers John Choi and Nicolina Lanni shows a sandal found in Hawaii by a beachcomber. The film team behind a documentary project, aimed at telling the stories behind items that wash ashore from the 2011 tsunami in Japan, have not yet found the owner or linked it to the disaster. (AP Photo/Courtesy John Choi and Nicolina Lanni)

    This undated photo provided by filmmakers John Choi and Nicolina Lanni shows a sandal found in Hawaii by a beachcomber. The film team behind a documentary project, aimed at telling the stories behind items that wash ashore from the 2011 tsunami in Japan, have not yet found the owner or linked it to the disaster. (AP Photo/Courtesy John Choi and Nicolina Lanni)

  • This undated photo provided by filmmakers John Choi and Nicolina Lanni shows a sandal found in Hawaii by a beachcomber. The film team behind a documentary project, aimed at telling the stories behind items that wash ashore from the 2011 tsunami in Japan, have not yet found the owner or linked it to the disaster. (AP Photo/Courtesy John Choi and Nicolina Lanni)

    This undated photo provided by filmmakers John Choi and Nicolina Lanni shows a sandal found in Hawaii by a beachcomber. The film team behind a documentary project, aimed at telling the stories behind items that wash ashore from the 2011 tsunami in Japan, have not yet found the owner or linked it to the disaster. (AP Photo/Courtesy John Choi and Nicolina Lanni)

  • This undated photo provided by filmmakers John Choi and Nicolina Lanni shows a sandal found in Hawaii by a beachcomber. The film team behind a documentary project, aimed at telling the stories behind items that wash ashore from the 2011 tsunami in Japan, have not yet found the owner or linked it to the disaster. (AP Photo/Courtesy John Choi and Nicolina Lanni)
  • This undated photo provided by filmmakers John Choi and Nicolina Lanni shows a sandal found in Hawaii by a beachcomber. The film team behind a documentary project, aimed at telling the stories behind items that wash ashore from the 2011 tsunami in Japan, have not yet found the owner or linked it to the disaster. (AP Photo/Courtesy John Choi and Nicolina Lanni)

A ball. A boat. A little girl’s sandal. Filmmakers are working to find – and tell – the stories behind some of the items that have washed up on North American shores following the deadly 2011 tsunami in Japan.

Lost and Found aims to reunite items discovered by beachcombers and others who feel compelled to return them to their rightful owners, co-director John Choi said.

A trailer for the film, which is still being produced, features two men affected by the items they’ve found. John Anderson found a volleyball on a beach in Washington state and Marcus Eriksen, head of an expedition that sailed from Japan to Hawaii to look for tsunami debris last year, found part of a boat. Neither of the items has been linked to their original owners yet.

“It was just like, whoa, oh man! There’s one of them balls with all the writing on it,” Anderson says in the clip. “I’m more interested in the story behind it. You know, I would sure like to know what happened to these people. It would be nice to know that they survived or this was at home while they were away – just this got washed away.”

Eriksen said when his team first saw the boat, there was initial excitement, “because we had been watching the ocean for a few weeks, just wondering what’s out there. But when we approached this, it quickly went from fascination and excitement to, like, the sobering reality that this was someone’s property, and we were very quickly filled with compassion about, you know, who lost this boat.”

Monday marks the two-year anniversary of the disaster, which devastated a long stretch of Japan’s northeastern coast and killed thousands of people. The Japanese government estimated that 1.5 million tons of debris was floating in the ocean in the immediate aftermath of the tsunami.

Tsunami debris is tough to monitor and distinguish from the everyday debris – much of it from Asia – that has long been a problem along the West Coast. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said just 21 items of the more than 1,500 reports of possible tsunami debris – including balls, a motorcycle and boats – have been firmly traced back to the tsunami.

The Canada-based filmmakers have been filming, on and off, for about a year. They established a network of contributors, and at times have been involved in trying to track down information on items found, like the little pink-and-purple sandal. A woman they met at a recent beachcomber fair found the shoe in Hawaii. A picture of it was posted on the film’s Facebook page, asking for help translating the handwriting on it.

So far, he said, the team is looking at six stories, three of which involve items already traced to their owners.

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