After an epic 22 hour journey from England to Japan, we took a brief walk around Nagasaki to get a feel for the place, and then had an early night, ready for the busy schedule that awaited us over the next 10 days.
Our first interviews were with Tokusaburo Nagai, the grandson of Dr. Nagai and Fr. Jose Aguilar, an expert on early Christianity in Japan as well as the life of Dr. Nagai. After a look around the small museum dedicated to Dr. Nagai, we set up next door in Nyokodo, the little hut where Dr. Nagai spent the last few years of his life.
After so many months researching, it was very strange to be actually sitting in his house, but in order for us to be able to faithfully recreate his story on film; the connection we felt walking in his footsteps was vital.
Our next interview was with Sister Kataoka, a historian with a personal connection to Dr. Nagai – her father was one of his doctors. She came to the interview with mountains of research material to show us. It was a fascinating hour or so.
Next on our schedule was an interview with Archbishop Takami. After the interview, the Archbishop gave us a guided tour of the rebuilt Cathedral. In the shadow of the great cathedral stand several atom bombed scarred statues, silent witnesses to an event that today, we can’t really imagine.
We had an earlier than usual start the next day because we had an 8 hour journey from Nagasaki to Nara ahead of us, where we were to meet Fr. Paul Glynn, author of “A Song For Nagasaki”.
We discovered just before leaving for Japan that Nara was celebrating its 1300th anniversary – as the number 13 played such an important part in our previous film, Finding Fatima, we took this as a good omen.
It turned out that our brief stay in Nara would be amongst the most treasured highlights of our entire trip to Japan.
We’ve had many wonderful experiences working on our previous films, but nothing compares to the welcome we received in Nara. On our first night we had a welcome dinner of Traditional Japanese food with Fr. Glynn and the men of “The Glynn club” washed down with Japanese beer and Sake. Unfortunately we had to cut the night a little short as we had to conduct one of our main interviews – with Fr. Glynn!
The next morning we were up bright and early to film the Sunday mass, where many of the parishioners had agreed to dress in traditional Kimonos, and in the case of the women, wearing white veils also.
I don’t think any of us has ever heard hymns sung in such perfect harmony as we did in that mass in Nara. There is something very special and pure about the faith of the Japanese Christians we’ve come across in our research, a deep sincerity, which is both humbling and inspiring at the same time, and this is what we witnessed during that mass.
During the service, Mrs Okada, a local soprano sung “The Bells of Nagasaki” – the theme song to the original 1950 movie based on the life of Dr. Nagai. The performance was stunning and this was among the most emotional moments of our trip.
We definitely wasn’t expecting what came at the end of the service. First Mrs. Yoshida, who, along with her husband Andy and Fr. Glynn, had helped arrange everything for our trip to Nara, performed a special welcome dance for us, and then we were asked to stand in front of the altar where we were presented with so many wonderful gifts, including an old Noh play mask (Noh is an ancient Japanese form of theatre).
Speaking on behalf of Major Oak Entertainment, director Ian Higgins addressed the parishioners, “We came to Japan to tell the story of one man, Dr. Nagai, but now, we realise this is the story of everyone in this church, of every Japanese Christian who ever lived. It is a story of a faith that survived against the odds, a faith that stands as an example to the rest of the world.”
Below Mrs Yoshida performs the traditional dance.
At the end of service we made a special recording of Mrs Okada singing “The Bells of Nagasaki”, for use in our film. We had a farewell lunch with Fr. Glynn and several of the parishioners before a quick shopping spree for traditional Kimonos, to be used as costumes in the movie. Mrs Yoshida kindly offered to come with us (we would have been lost without her!)
We were very sad to leave Nara so soon – but we had a very demanding and tight schedule, so we set off on another 8 hour journey back to Nagasaki.