A flower's seed born a century ago
The novel Daddy-Long-Legs (1912) was born in America. In the novel a girl named Judy who had lived in an orphanage caught the eye of a wealthy man and they made a contract. He would financially support her for the college education and in return she would write a monthly letter to him. This completely changed Judy's life. Though she had lost her parents, she discovered the joy of life for the first time through education and became hopeful about the future. This is truly a story of Cinderella.
Daddy-Long-Legs is the nickname Judy gave to the wealthy man. And the novel Daddy-Long-Legs took the form of her letters to him. When the novel was released, it was an international blockbuster, but now it seems it has become less-known and forgotten in its homeland of America.
The author is a young woman writer, Jean Webster. In those days, when women could usually not attend college, she attended the prestigious Vassar College, the first college to open its doors to women. Student life there became a model for the novel. Webster herself lost her father to suicide and conducted charity work for orphans.
And then, the seed of Daddy-Long-Legs landed in Japan. The essence was inherited in NGO Ashinaga (long-legged). Under the name of Ashinaga (long-legged) Movement, this NGO has been collecting goodwill donation and extending its activities to support orphaned children of car accidents, by suicide, and of natural disasters. So far more than 100,000 children got support of their education from this NGO. It is not exaggeration to say that the founder Yoshiomi Tamai is a modern version of Daddy-Long-Legs.
Amateur acting troupe with a top director
Since 2001, the Ashinaga NGO has been active in the Republic of Uganda, operating a private school named "Rainbow House" on the outskirts of the capital city of Kampara. This school is for AIDS orphans who cannot attend public schools due to extreme poverty.
Soon after, Japanese orphans followed. They themselves are survivors of a tsunami caused by the Great East Japan Earthquake and lost their beloved family members in the disaster.
Their circumstances are woven in and become the subplot of the work. Last are the affluent students in the choir of Vassar College, the alma mater of the author, Jean Webster.
We called it a music concert, but the reality was that lead roles were all amateurs.
It was John Caird, the British stage director, who brought everyone together and turned their performances into an amazing stage. Mr. Caird was awarded the Tony Award twice for Les Miserables and others, and Tamai got to know him through the direction of the musical " Daddy-Long- Legs"
Professor Christine Howlett, choral director at Vassar College, was responsible for vocal training; a loving teacher just like Julie Andrews in the movie, The Sound of Music, her deep ties with the kids makes the story more compelling.
Narration is given from the original heroine's viewpoint.
The orphan heroine of the novel, Judy, doesn't know what a family is from the time she's born. After spending a heavy, painful childhood in an orphanage, she acquires the joy and hope of life by receiving higher education through an accidental encounter with Daddy-Long-Legs. The story progresses from the perspective of Judy, who becomes like the orphans' Big Sis.
The English narrator is young Ugandan actress Esther Nakamya. She herself lost her father and lived in abject poverty when she was a child. She had to work desperately to feed her family from her very young age. She is just like a big sister of children now attending Rainbow House. Her own past is somehow overlapping with the film, and she made a great contribution with such loving and caring narration.
The Japanese narrator is actress Misako Konno. She has been a supporter of the Ashinaga Movement for 25 years. She gently encouraged the children, watching over them, just as a mother already in heaven would a beloved child.
The main axis of the story
The United Nations has designated the 49 countries situated in Sub-Saharan- Africa, the area south of the Sahara, as the world's poorest region. AIDS is still prevalent in Africa. Tamai believes that education is the best weapon against poverty and made his resolve to start the "Ashinaga Global Movement" to plant and cultivate the seed of Daddy-Long-Legs, this time in Africa. This is an extraordinary initiative to find potential donors and extend support to orphaned children trapped in despair.
We want them stand on their own feet today and get energy for tomorrow. Speak in your own words about your anger, wish and dream. Sing. Dance. Take a chance. When you express your thoughts and have yourself understood well, you can be liberated from what you are tied up to. And then you can break the mold and make a new start for tomorrow.
Why don't we do a concert to show this idea? We may be able to appeal media around the world and interest many people as well. Tamai came up with this idea and developed it into a plan. He thought, "The higher we aim, the better. OK, let them perform on the stage of Broadway in NY." Tamai wanted the world to know children's wishes, worries and struggles. Engagement of a legendary British stage director accelerated the plan at a stretch.
Children from Africa and Tohoku region of Japan, who had been supported by Ashinaga, intensively practiced singing, dancing, and drumming and finally, they appeared on the stage of Broadway in New York, which no one had imagined. The four-year trajectory of their growth and subsequent dramatic changes became the pillar of the film.
Theme song is " Simple Gifts"
We chose " Simple Gifts" as our theme song. This is a traditional hymn of the American Shakers'.
So, what does this title "Simple Gifts" mean?
"I have noticed just ordinary lives with family is more important than anything else" said many affected by the Great East Japan Earthquake and guardians of Ugandan children alike.
They say, "Health of all family members. Accessible water. Daily food. Peace. Realizing these things and being grateful for it. All of them are gifts from God."
And "Simple Gifts" has another important message.
I was born for the sake of what ? What is my real role in this world ? Everybody wants to know the answer, keeping on struggling to find one.
The lyrics of the hymn say that the true pleasure of life is to find yourself in the place just right.
I am not alone in sorrow. Children, who played leading roles in the performance were able to be aware of something important by caring someone else. Students from Vassar College went through the same experiences.
Going forward to their goal, Ashinaga performers will move on to the next stage of their life, assured about their respective "simple gift".
Many thoughts and desires came together to bring about the project's completion
I have lived in the television world for many years and have developed a habit of looking objectively on phenomena and subjects of photo shoots. Yet, why does my heart still shake whenever I watch this film ? Perhaps it is because we empathize with the characters' thoughts and wonder what our own "simple gifts" might be?
This is not just a tedious documentary film. It is a story about how children in total despair, by finding a big purpose, also find hope in life and new dreams-it is the very essence of the novel Daddy-Long-Legs itself.
This is about a social movement developed tenaciously by a Japanese man with an Ashinaga seed as well as a mother killed in a traffic accident. Finally, the movement has extended to providing educational support to African orphans. The audience will be overwhelmed by the selfless activity and power of a Japanese man propelled by the principle that "education is everything" for over half a century.
When honest simplicity reaches such proportions, supporters appear one after another. John Caird is one of them.
In an era when images are mass produced and easily consumed, resorting to the medium of documentary indicates my strong belief in the power of images. This is a Japanese documentary film but it has both Japanese version and English version. This is because I thought we could have more supporters through broadcasting home and abroad as well as on the internet, reaching as many audiences as possible.
If this work triggers public interest in young Africans, and then fosters a budding desire to support them, I will be very happy.
This off-the-wall project came true thanks to Ashinaga well-wishers who, taking a fancy to Yoshiomi Tamai's "think big, talk HUGE" approach, joined forces globally. That factor was also an immense encouragement for this production.
Shinji Shinoda （director）
Miranda Reese and Samantha Smith
Japanese version narrator Misako Konno | actress
author of the novel Daddy-Long-Legs (1876-1916)
Music Jusqu'à Grand-Père: Hiroaki Takai & Makoto Hirose | composition / performance
Music Yuriko Nakamura | composer / pianist
English version narrator Esther Nakamya | Ugandan actress
Director Shinji Shinoda
PROFILE ● Guitar and violin duo. They're known for their gypsy swing jazz, tango, Spanish, Latin, classical and Japanese sounds. They are active in various fields such as TV, commercials, songs for drama, news and documentary theme songs. Their Daiwa Sakura Aid concert, a banner for cherry blossom conservation and Japanese culture preservation, is also underway in Japan.
PROFILE ● A major composer of new age music. Nakamura has more than 40 albums including soundtracks released in Japan and overseas. In addition to dramas, she has scored movies (The Centenarian Clock directed by Shusuke Kaneko), animation (Mitaka no Mori Ghibli Art Museum short animation "The Day I Raised a Planet" directed by Hayao Miyazaki), and various video works.