Yasuke, the journey so far.

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Independent filmmaking ain’t easy..

Film projects come, film project go. They pile up, in different states of development. One sometimes leapfrogging the other. Each poured out of a soul, each deserving of being told bathed in cinema firelight. You keep your nose to the grindstone and your ear to the ground. Start something new to pay rent, time dominated, and your dream projects stay in play, because you maintain the faith that you can make them happen. You just never give up.


Where we are

Yasuke has been two years in research, forming networks, finding associates, making new discoveries, lots of discussion and debate with co-producer Deborah DeSnoo in Tokyo. She, with her 1000 pages of notes on the Jesuits in the 16th Century. Me with my stacks of research materials looking at a timeline of wars in Africa to speculate an origin for Yasuke, seeking oral histories, being in touch with Chude Mondlane in Mozambique, looking at the history of contact between East Africa and Asia before the coming of the Europeans.

Deborah and I meet several time a week, sometimes, on Facebook. It’s just way easier than Skype. She has a good command of Japanese history, being a 30 year resident of the country and having produced a landmark three-part series, Japan Memoirs of a Secret Empire, that has been hacked and and remixed all over the internet. You can buy it from PBS here. It’s a great collector item if you still collect DVD.

Since we started the film, Tokyo based author, Thomas Lockley published a paper on Yasuke had written a scholarly essay, “The story of Yasuke: Nobunaga’s African retainer.”

One of the key things we learn, if not Yasuke’s actual origins is the manner of his arrival to Japan, not as chattel, but as aide to a powerful man, the Jesuit Alessandro Valignano. Visitor of Missions in the Indies.
Lockley establishes Yasuke’s life in that year with Oda Nobunaga was most compelling and generated the story of a lifetime.  Nobunaga, admiring his strength courage and mastery of the Japanese language,  appointed him, weapon-bearer. He was give money,  a house and servants. Samurai Matsudaira Ietada, a a great personality of the Sengoku period, mentions in a diary kept for the 17 year interval between 1575 and August 1594, letada nikki (家忠日記).  In it he speculates that Yasuke’s status was possibly  equal to his own. To me Nobunaga seems the of similar personality to Russia’s Peter the Great (tsar from 1682-1696), and his relationship with the grandfather of Pushkin, Ibrahim Petrovitch Gannibal. Both Nobunaga and Peter valued perspectives on the outside world.

As we search for the origins of Yasuke, we discover a word in which human trafficking is the norm. Like all human beings, African’s commonly went to sea, not as property, but as adventurers, sailors, navigators and mercenaries in foreign wars, and even as warrior-aides to Jesuit officials.
Great discoveries come out of the research. We will be revealing more soon.

Yasuke’s origins remain elusive, or they could be hiding in plain sight.