DFA Staff Pick: Missionaries in Japan

DFA Staff Pick: Missionaries in Japan

Date: 07/06/2024 14:53

This month’s DFA staff pick is a charming six-and-a-half-minute episode of ‘Super 8 Stories’ entitled “Missionaries in Japan.”

A Doubleband Films Production which was transmitted by BBC NI on 3rd October 2004, the programme starts by affectionately recounting the emigration experiences of three young children from Northern Ireland - Eileen, David and Stephen Farrell – who, in 1962, found themselves unexpectedly relocating to Japan following their missionary father being posted there.

On the face of it, this appears to be an unexceptional account of three Northern Irish children adapting (quite easily, as it turns out) to everyday life in a totally alien world. However, ‘Missionaries in Japan’ is much more than that.

Through its use of the intimate and unintrusive format of Super 8 film and underscored by a narrative counterpoint of reflections and anecdotes from the (now adult) ‘children’ and combined with evocative music of the time, ‘Missionaries in Japan’ gives us an ‘up close and personal’ glimpse of what everyday life was like in Japan in the 1960’s and 70’s.

But while the children’s experiences of adapting to life in and their perceptions of Japan are, in themselves, distinctly compelling, their return to Northern Ireland in 1975 is no less so as, having been thoroughly immersed in Japanese culture for 13 years (and now entirely bilingual, to boot), they find themselves culturally shocked at the contrast between the busy Japanese lifestyle they have left behind and the relatively sedate and bucolic Northern Irish lifestyle they have returned to.

It is at this point, that the viewer realises that, through the Farrells’ deep immersion in such a completely different culture, they have become aware that a different (and previously unrecognised) part of themselves has been awakened by this experience, which, in turn, subtly raises a deeper question for the viewer: just how deeply affected and shaped are we by our own experiences as children?

 A cliché question, maybe, but, as the Farrells themselves allude to, no less profound for all that. Which makes this even more poignant a watch.