Documentary tells story of US teacher killed in tsunami

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Trailer and pledge drive for the documentary on Taylor Anderson, a 24-year-old assistant English teacher living her dream when Japan’s eastern coast was devastated by a tsunami two years ago. (Photo courtesy of Global Film Network)
From Stripes.com
Trailer and pledge drive for the documentary on Taylor Anderson, a 24-year-old assistant English teacher living her dream when Japan’s eastern coast was devastated by a tsunami two years ago. (Photo courtesy of Global Film Network)

Documentary tells story of US teacher killed in tsunami

by: Chiyomi Sumida | .
Stars and Stripes | .
published: March 13, 2013

CAMP FOSTER — Taylor Anderson was living her dream when Japan’s eastern coast was devastated by a tsunami two years ago.

And though the 24-year-old teacher died after getting her students to safety, her parents have made sure that her dream lives on.

The story of her life has been made into a documentary film, “Live Your Dream — the Taylor Anderson Story,” that debuted on Okinawa a week before the anniversary of a March 11, 2011, magnitude 9 quake that spawned the tsunami and a nuclear disaster and claimed nearly 19,000 lives.

At the time of the disaster, Anderson was working in Ishinomaki, in Miyagi prefecture, as an assistant English-language teacher under the Japanese government-sponsored Japan Exchange and Teaching Program, known as JET. About 4,000 such teachers from about 40 English-speaking countries teach the language across the country.

The film starts with the Virginia native’s life, with her parents, Andy and Jeanne Anderson, her brother and sister, classmates, teachers in the states, her fellow JET teachers and her students in Japan remembering her as positive and happy, a girl who developed an early interest in Japan that grew into a love of the country.

Then came the quake.

Anderson was teaching at Mangokuura Elementary School. She helped her students evacuate to higher ground and stayed with them until their parents came to pick them up.

Then she got on her bike and headed to her apartment to call her family to let them know she was all right. Massive waves engulfed her.

Horrifying footage of the tsunami that devastated homes, buildings, cars and even huge boats depicts the horror that the entire world shared.

Jeanne Anderson talks in the film about her family’s fear when they first learned about the earthquake and tsunami, and the anxious time waiting for a call from their daughter that never came. While TV screens incessantly flashed the scenes of the tsunami sweeping away whole towns, their hopes dwindled.

It was nearly two weeks later when they were formally informed of their daughter’s death.

Andy Anderson came to Japan with Taylor’s fiancée to take her body home. Looking at his daughter’s peaceful face was a great comfort for him, he said in the film.

Director Regge Life said he made the documentary not to tell a sad story, but to convey an important message Andersen left behind.

“The positive attitude of Taylor and her parents toward life guided me in making the film,” he said.

“The message from Taylor is not to be sad but live with your dream.”

In September 2011, Anderson’s parents visited the school where she taught to establish the Taylor Anderson Library with hundreds of children’s books she loved and other books for the students.

Organized by her alma mater, St. Catherine School, donations from people who were touched by her commitment to her dream and her love of Japan helped create the Taylor Anderson Memorial Fund. The Andersons founded the Taylor Scholarship, which will provide financial assistance to students who have suffered from the disaster to go to Sendai YMCA College.

sumida.chiiyomi@stripes.com