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Blessed Teresa leads filmmaker to God

Film director tries to emulate values of Blessed Teresa

Shigeki and Clara Chiba Shigeki and Clara Chiba
  • C.M. Paul, Warsaw,
  • Poland
  • June 10, 2011
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This is unusual for a Japanese person. A 19-year-old economics student in college watches the Akira Kurosawa movie Ikiru (To Live) and is so impressed he talks his father into letting him switch to film studies. This was 1952.

Ikiru tells the story of a cancer patient who has only six months to live, but "really lives that half year," says Shigeki Chiba, 78, prior to a screening of his third Mother Teresa film at the Salesian University in Rome, earlier this week.

“The Kurosawa film impressed young Shigeki so much, he forgot to collect the bicycle which he rode to the cinema,” adds his wife, Yoshimi, sitting by his side.

Young Shigeki left Kyoto to pursue a career in filmmaking at Nihon University Tokyo.

"That movie gave people the message of having courage in living and I decided to make movies that would give people courage and hope," he says, looking at his wife and daughter Clara.

Shigeki who has three Mother Teresa films to his credit, Mother Teresa and Her World (1979), Mother Teresa’s Visit to Japan (1981) and Living With Mother Teresa (2010), was awarded the “Multimedia in the Service of the Gospel Award,” on June 4 at the 26th International Catholic Film Festival held in Niepokalanow near Warsaw in Poland.

“This award is a matter of comfort and pride for Japanese people recovering from the recent natural calamities,” said Shigeki in his acceptance speech.

Shigeki is also the current president of Signis-Japan, a Catholic communications association.

Shigeki made his debut as a scriptwriter for A Grain of Wheat (1959).

His directorial debut was a documentary film entitled: The Beloved Adopted Children in 1974.

Shigeki’s introduction to the Catholic faith was through his wife, who worked for the Tokyo Catholic weekly Katorikku Shimbun. It was through her contacts, namely Cardinal Shirawanagi of Tokyo who knew Mother Teresa, that Shigeki made the documentary Mother Teresa and Her World in April 1979 just before she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in November of that year. This film has won over 10 awards including the Japan Red Cross Film Festival Grand Prix and the Mainichi Newspaper Film Contest Grand Prix.

It all started after Shigeki and Yoshimi first visited Mother Teresa in November 1976 when they both worked as volunteers at the Shishubhavan (Children’s Home) in Calcutta.

“Mother Teresa’s philosophy of seeing Jesus in the poorest of the poor touched me so much that I began to read the Bible to find Jesus,” says Shigeki, insisting that it was Mother Teresa and not film-making that led him to the Catholic faith in December 1977.

“First I wanted to tell the story of Mother Teresa to the Japanese [then] I wanted to have the same values she had and they came from Catholicism,” said Shigeki whose family’s religion was a mix of Buddhism and Tendi Kyo.

“Mother Teresa had much humor and joy. She would be saintly when she prayed in the church, but when she helped the poor she was like any other person, laughing and talking.”

His admiration for Mother Teresa of Calcutta was such that he named his first daughter after the saintly nun.

Though Christians make up less than one percent of the population in Japan, over 1,000 Japanese youths visit Kolkata each year, to serve as volunteers in Mother Teresa homes.

His latest film, Living with Mother Teresa (73 min), produced last year to mark her birth centenary, explores “how Mother Teresa continues to inspire young Japanese people,” says Shigeki.  Made in Japanese, over 300,000 people in Japan have seen the film.

Visiting Rome following his festival triumph, Shigeki met with the president of the pontifical Commission for Social Communications, Archbishop Celli, on Tuesday and gave him a screening of his Mother Teresa film and another about a Polish missioner to Japan, St. Maxmillian Kolbe, at the Vatican.

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