A man for others

A new animated short film focuses on the period that the late Jesuit Superior General, Fr Pedro Arrupe SJ, spent in Japan. Ria Limjap explains how the film was made about the man whose cause for beatification and canonisation was opened in 2019.


By David McMahon, Communications Manager, Society of Jesus in Australia

Listening to Ria Lamjap talk softly but intently about how the animated short film ‘Arrupe in Japan’ was made, I start to see a pattern. Events that might at first be dismissed as happenstance are actually pivotal moments in the project that took Ria, the Consultant for Communication at the Jesuit Conference of Asia Pacific (JCAP), over two and a half years to complete.

Ria’s own background was a perfect fit:

“I’m a writer and producer and I have previously worked in film in the Philippines. When I joined JCAP as the Communications Consultant, I realised that it would be really wonderful to do a documentary on Fr Pedro Arrupe SJ, especially because of the years (1938-1965) that he spent in Japan, a period that was significant in his life.

“We actually started this project before the pandemic, after I pitched the idea to our Conference president, Fr Tony Moreno SJ. He was very supportive and the initial plan was that we were supposed to do it with Jesuit Communications in the Philippines but the pandemic changed everything. We were actually thinking about a full-length documentary with a section of animation in the middle as an intermezzo. It ended up being just the animation that tells the story of Fr Arrupe’s time as a young missionary in Japan, years before he would take on the role of Father General.”

Unearthing an elusive recording of a key speech:

“At the outset, one major challenge for us was to find a pivotal speech that Fr Arrupe gave to the Jesuits in Bangkok in 1981. Believe it or not, I was in Bangkok at the JCAP Asia Pacific office in 2019 and Elphie, this French girl was doing communications and advocacy for JRS. I mentioned the speech to her and she literally said: ‘Hold on, I may have  something.’

“She checked her laptop where she very quickly found the audio file of Fr Arrupe’s speech. I couldn’t believe my luck. Of course, because the recording is more than 40 years old it isn’t great quality. It’s scratchy because it would literally have been a cassette recorder that someone put on a table and pressing play.

“Given its age, I think the recording is probably a little sped up as well, meaning that Fr Arrupe’s pitch sounds a little higher than it would have actually been. But Fr Jody Magtoto SJ, the Communications Officer of the Japanese Province, helped to clean it up a little bit.”

Finding the appropriate voice actor:

“I felt that the voice actor I had in mind actually sounded a little bit like Fr Arrupe, based on what I heard of his voice on that cassette tape. Chaco Molina, the narrator, is actually FilipinoSpanish with a Castilian accent.

Ria Limjap.

The humble abode in Nagatsuka, Japan, where Fr Arrupe lived:

“Fr Arrupe’s incredible life story is so well known. Many people are familiar with the multiple layers and chapters of his life. Taking a few carefully chosen aspects and condensing them into a short animated film was incredibly difficult, but I knew that making one vital connection was paramount – being able to understand what exactly was so special about the little house in Nagatsuka where he lived.

“I tried to read as much as I could about his life and while I read about Nagatsuka, the one thing that really established a deep emotional and spiritual connection for me was when I actually had the privilege of visiting Nagatsuka, near Hiroshima, when Father General visited Japan in August 2019. It was an extremely moving experience for me to see that house. I never thought I would have been blessed in that way.”

The importance of Fr Arrupe’s medical background:

As a young man, Fr Arrupe studied medicine at the University of Madrid before deciding to join the Jesuit order. However, because the Spanish government dissolved the Jesuit order in that country in 1927, Fr Arrupe continued his religious preparation in Europe and the United States before being ordained in Kansas in 1936. Two years later, he moved to Japan and his early medical experience came into play on 6 August 1945, the day the US Air Force dropped the atom bomb on Hiroshima, a few kilometres away from where he lived in Nagatsuka. Fr Arrupe was credited with being one of the first rescuers to arrive in the devastated city, where he used his medical knowledge to help the dying and the injured.

As Ria explains, “I was able to visit his house and that chapel where he treated all those people. Apparently, that house was full, with scores of people suffering from a variety of horrific injuries. They say that nobody died among those whom he treated and that they all survived, although one version is that only a single person died under his care.

“So I tried to read as much as I could before I went to Nagatsuka. I also spoke to Fr Pascual Cebollada, the Postulator General of the Society of Jesus. It was wonderful Hhe shared with me all the photos and material that they had – everything relevant to that period of Fr Arrupe’s life. I also spoke to a Japanese Jesuit, Fr Yosuka Asakae, who wrote the dissertation for his doctorate on ‘Self-transcendence in the life of Pedro Arrupe S.J.: A narrative inquiry into his writings’.

“All these experiences were so helpful in deciding how to portray Fr Arrupe’s years in Japan. It was really just a matter of immersing myself in his life and learning as much as I could. I was very happy that I was able to read a biography of Fr Arrupe written by a Spanish Jesuit, Fr Miguel Lamet. I also have a huge bag of photocopied material, also some digital filesphotos – all this material helped me to imagine what it was like for Fr Arrupe.

“This year is the fiftieth anniversary of Fr Arrupe’s famous speech about being men and women for others, and I think his time in Japan really exemplifies this. He was there with the Japanese people, he suffered with them. After the bomb was dropped, the Japanese Emperor addressed the nation in a radio speech and said, ‘We have to bear the unbearable’. Coming after one of the biggest tragedies the world has ever seen, Fr Arrupe was there with the Japanese people, at ground zero, bearing the unbearable alongside them. What he did for the wounded without equipment and medicines was incredible, really incredible.”

Finding access to the right animators and choosing the most appropriate music:

I realised how important it was to have access to Ateneo de Naga University, a private Jesuit education institution run by the Philippine Province of the Society of Jesus in Naga City, in the Philippines. Fr Primitivo Viray Jr SJ, the Philippine Provincial, was also a long-serving president of the university. He is very proud of Ateneo de Naga because they are really a top school for animation. In fact, if I’m not mistaken, they are the only school in the Philippines that offers a Masters in animation and it’s no surprise that their graduates are immediately snapped up for animation jobs all over the world. And so I thought, well, that’s a resource within the Conference that we should tap. Fr Viray connected me with their current president, Fr Robert Rivera SJ, and so I was able to work with the amazing people in their digital arts computer animation department.

“I knew we had to have a music track, but it had to be utterly relevant to the story. That’s when I released it would be very appropriate and extremely poignant to use music from the Elisabeth University of Music in Hiroshima, which was actually founded by Jesuits in 1948. It’s probably the only Jesuit music school in the world. I went to this beautiful school and met some of the many talented students. They had a huge list of recorded music that they gave me access to. I just short-listed a few tracks that would suit the animation and the story.

“My reaction when I saw the final product was very – I don’t know quite how to explain it – I was just so happy and proud that it was done. That said, I’d watched it multiple times in post-production, over and over again, sometimes literally frame by frame, so I had already seen many iterations of it.

“This was a labour of love for me and I am grateful to so many people who helped me make this short film! But when I finally saw it complete, with the voiceover and the music, I had to take a moment to fully comprehend what we’d achieved, after two and a half years’ work, a lot of it long-distance. I hope young people see inspiration in the story of Fr Arrupe and his devotion to Japan. He’s so much more than just a Jesuit who is about to become a saint. He was a young man with hopes and dreams and beliefs and multiple levels of devotion. I hope we have depicted that and I hope that aspect of his life and service will live on.”

For English closed captions, ensure the ‘CC’ logo in the YouTube player is selected and highlighted red and ‘English’ is selected in Settings (cog icon).

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