CineMag SIGNIS. SIGNIS and Asian cinema

Cinema is one of the most popular forms of entertainment in Asia.

The Asian Cinema Industry produces probably the most films in the world. Since the start of Asian Cinema, Catholicism and Catholics played an important role. The French Pathé colour film, The Passion (1905) triggered Indian producers to make films about the different Indian Gods. The enormous success of these films became the base of the Indian film industry which became a counterculture against the one of the Western colonialists. Now, more than ever, members of SIGNIS Asia are active in film education, organizing film festivals, being members in international film juries in film festivals such as Cannes, Venice or Locarno, reviewing films for magazines and websites and promoting national quality films. Bishops conferences are promoting local cinema and awarding national prizes such as in the Philippines with the CMMA Awards!

Through the Catholic Action the activities of OCIC became already known in the 1930s in Asia. In 1935 the Malaya Catholic Leader (MCL) in Singapore published extensively on OCIC. Then the Japanese silent film The twenty six Martyrs of Japan: Ware Yo ni Kateri of the Nikkatsu Corporation featuring well known Japanese actors conquered the Western Catholic world in the mid-1930s. The story centered on the arrival and crucifixion of twenty-six Spanish Franciscan missionaries in Nagasaki in 1597. The Dominican film critic and Belgian OCIC member Morlion wrote in 1934 that this film served faith in a dignified manner, even when it was a well-made action film with samurais. In 2016 it was Martin Scorsese who put a similar story on the screen with the movie Silence with the consultancy of a SIGNIS member, the late Jesuit Jerry Martinson. The film was screened at the SIGNIS General Assembly in Quebec in 2017 in the presence of Scorsese.

In 1950 the OCIC International cinema review of OCIC gave a remarkable attention to the cinema situation in Japan and India with articles written by the Japanese Tatsuo Sito and Kikou Yamata and the Indians Panna Shah and T. Purakel. In 1956 at the Cannes Film festival the OCIC jury gave a commendation to an Indian film, Satyajit Ray’s Pather Panchali. It was the first Asian film which had drawn the attention of OCIC. That year at Venice the same jury also gave a commendation to Biruma no tategoto (The Burmese Harp) of the Japanese director Kon Ichikawa. Finally, in 1958 the first OCIC prize for an Asian film was for Do ankhen barah haath (Two Eyes, Twelve Hands) by V. Shantaram. It was a Hindi film based on humanistic psychology and it became one of the most classic Indian films ever. In these films there were no references to the West or colonialism, but they captured the spirituality in the local Asian communities as well as values that were also found in the Gospel. It is also Gaston Roberge SJ, who in the 1960s introduced film studies in India with an Indian cultural angle.

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Image info: Jimpitan by Wiwid Septiyardi, Indonesia