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Streams of Light: Shin Buddhism in America (film)

DVD cover. Courtesy of Ebisu Filmes
View in the Densho Encyclopedia

Documentary film on shin Buddhism in the United States focuses on the Japanese American temples of the Buddhist Churches of America (BCA) from 1898 to the present. The sixty-four minute film was directed by Brazil-based Buddhist priest Rev. Kentaro Sugao with the cooperation of the BCA and the Institute of Buddhist Studies.

Told through Rev. Sugao's eyes—he is also the primary narrator of the film—he tells us early in the movie that by looking at the development of shin Buddhism in America, he hopes to glean lessons for Buddhism in Brazil. Though the film mentions the arrival of the first Buddhist ministers in San Francisco in 1899, the first fifty years are covered very quickly. The core of the film covers the 1950s to the present in a series of vignettes that cover the struggles to reestablish the temples after World War II, the modernization of the temples in the 1970s, different approaches to reaching youth through the Dharma Schools, the establishment and evolution of the Institute of Buddhist Studies, and the drive to move beyond the Japanese American community. Nearly all of those interviewed are Buddhist priests from California temples. Excerpts from key essays by American Buddhist leaders are also read by off-screen narrators. The film also uses much archival footage and photographs from the BCA archives, Japanese American National Museum , and other sources.

Though World War II represented a key turning point for Buddhists in America, the subject is mentioned only briefly in the film. While excerpts of three wartime documents by the BCA are read—one a letter to President Franklin D. Roosevelt affirming the loyalty of Nikkei Buddhists and two messages to Nikkei Buddhists—there is nothing on the fate of Buddhist priests during the war nor of Buddhism in the concentration camps. Later in the film, one minister talks about a pioneering Rev. Seki establishing a temple in New York after having been interned in four camps during the war.

Authored by Brian Niiya , Densho

Might also like Leap of Faith: How Enmanji Temple Was Saved (2010); My Friends Behind Barbed Wire (2008); Starting Over: Japanese Americans After the War (1996)

Media Details
Release Date 2013
Runtime 64 minutes
Director Rev. Kentaro Sugao
Producer Paulo Pastorelo
Screenplay Rev. Kentaro Sugao
Narrator Rev. Harry Bridge
Starring Rev. Marvin Harada, Rev. Kentaro Sugao, Sakaye Tsuji, Maya Tsuji Lawrence, Rev. Masao Kodani, Rev. Henry Adams, Rev. Yukiko Motoyoshi, Rev. Carol Himaka, Rev. Taitetsu Uno, Rev. Ronald Kobata, Rev. Mark Unno, Rev. Jerry Hirano, Rev. David Matsumoto, Dr. David R. Pating, Camille Hamilton Pating, Rev. Koshin Ogui
Cinematography Paulo Pastorelo
Editing Noriko Oda
Studio Ebisu Filmes
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