As an infant, Marie Torikai is rescued from beneath the rubble following an air raid on the city of Okayama near the end of World War II. She is cared for by relatives until the age of ten because her mother had failed to recover her strength after childbirth, but then her mother comes to claim Marie back and they move to Seattle to live with her second husband. When her mother dies six years later, however, Marie is left an orphan at age 16. She moves to New York, where she works as a hotel maid while setting her sights on becoming an artist. Impressed by pictures a friend shows her, she joins the upstate apple harvest to earn some extra money and buy a camera of her own. A young Japanese cameraman traveling in the United States teaches her the basics of photography, and she begins submitting photos to publishers, dreaming of the day when she will be able to make a living with her camera.
Then comes a fateful meeting with Renji Iwai, a Japanese war photographer who has been documenting the War in Vietnam. They fall in love, and Marie sets her camera aside as she focuses on starting a family. But she happens to be back in Japan in February 1972 when the Asama Sansō (“Mountain Lodge”) hostage crisis takes place, and the incident prompts her to pick up her camera again. As she is covering that news she suffers a miscarriage, and at nearly the same time, Renji is killed in Vietnam. She decides to carry on his work as a photojournalist, and begins traveling to hot spots around the globe, documenting outbreaks of student unrest, plane crashes, civil wars, and the like. All the while she asks: Why do people fight? Is there anything that can save the world from all this conflict? The final event she photographs is the terrorist attack on the Twin Towers in New York City on September 11, 2001. Torikai throws down her camera to help rescue children from a daycare center inside one of the buildings and ultimately fails to return, adding her name to the list of the missing.
The story is told in part by Marie herself, and in part by Miwako, a childcare worker whom Marie rescues from the World Trade Center. Miwako visits Marie’s relatives and acquaintances to learn about her life. The two points of view merge into a moving tale of a woman living in turbulent times who pursued her chosen mission with great passion and pride.