Tuesday 7 February 2017

Pre-"Silence": The 26 Japanese martyrs

Yesterday to the "Sala Deskur" inside the Vatican, not far from Casa Santa Marta, for a screening of a 1930s black and white silent movie, "I 26 martiri giapponesi." Sala Deskur is the place where the popes watch movies when they decide to - a rather simple small hall, holding about 50 people.
The movie was produced in Japan in 1931, and in 1935 bought by the Salesians and diffused as part of the 60th anniversary of the Salesian Missions. As such, there are no credits anywhere, but only a reference to "Missioni don Bosco," subtitles in Italian, and a concluding appeal to benefactors.
The movie was found in the movie collection in the archives of Valdocco. It has been restored - converted into digital format and cleaned up - by an Italian government agency (RAI perhaps?), with which we have signed a contract for the conservation of this precious archive.
Very well done for a 1930s production. It appears that the producer / director was a Japanese, who worked in consultation with a Japanese Catholic. The movie concentrates on the Franciscan missionaries in some part of Kyoto; the Jesuits are not mentioned, and neither is Gonsalo Garcia or the Mexican Franciscan. There are no scenes of torture; only the final crucifixion scene which is strangely stylized, and the martyrs die not because they are crucified - they are tied to the crosses - but because they are lanced.
I found myself strangely cold and unmoved, except perhaps by the scene in which the two young boys insist on joining the Franciscans in martyrdom. "Of gods and men" touched me far more, portraying as it does the very real anguish felt by men who are consecrated but faced with the ultimate consequences of their consecration. Cereda said that this was the way of all the martyrs - he meant that they all went singing to their death, as shown in our movie. I am not so sure. Or rather, I know that the Thiberrine movie touches me far more. Just as the Don Bosco of Pietro Stella moves me infinitely more than the one of other books and biographies.

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