Thanks to Your Noble Shadow

There is something exceptional about Jennie O’ Sullivan. After spending 75 years as a missionary nun in Japan, she has returned to her native Ireland at almost 100 years old. Everyday, letters arrive from around the world connecting her to hundreds of past pupils with whom she has built bonds as strong as family. What is it about this witty and wise old lady that touched the hearts of generations of Japanese women? Over one year, she tells her younger cousin her epic life story.

  • James Creedon
  • James Creedon
  • Élisabeth Feytit
  • Alexander Kato-Willis
    Original Music
  • Project Title (Original Language):
    Merci à votre noble ombre
  • Project Type:
    Documentary, Feature
  • Genres:
    Documentary, Memories, Missionnary, Asia, Woman, Christian, Aging
  • Runtime:
    1 hour 35 minutes 14 seconds
  • Completion Date:
    January 15, 2017
  • Production Budget:
    65,000 EUR
  • Country of Origin:
  • Country of Filming:
    France, Ireland, Japan
  • Language:
    English, French, Japanese
  • Shooting Format:
  • Aspect Ratio:
  • Film Color:
    Black & White and Color
  • First-time Filmmaker:
  • Student Project:
Director Biography - James Creedon

James Creedon is a news presenter and reporter, based in Paris. He grew up in Cork, Ireland before moving to France to finish his studies in International Relations at Sciences Po Paris.
He then joined the newly-founded international news channel France 24 where he still works eight years later.
After a number of years reporting and presenting a morning news segment, he launched his own evening show, which he produces and presents. "Mediawatch" is a look at the day's news and trends online and on social media. It has become one of the most popular items in France 24's output.
In 2012, James began filming "Thanks to your Noble Shadow" which he completed in 2016. It is his first feature documentary project.

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Director Statement

Some years ago, I became curious about a cousin of my great-grandfather who had just returned after 75 years as a missionary nun in Japan. Jennie O’ Sullivan had kept close ties with my grandmother down through the years. They often wrote to one another and as a child, I remember her letters arriving from Tokyo and was fascinated by this relative who had been living on the other side of the world for so many decades.

My initial intention was simply to record her memories for family purposes. She was over 100 years old when I started and I was struck by how funny, lucid and smart she was. She could recount her memories with such energy, verve and emotion…
However, I was also aware that Jennie was in a position to provide a very accurate personal testimony of a way of life that was coming to an end. Ireland had sent tens of thousands of Catholic missionaries all over the world throughout the 20th century. Around a dozen missionary orders were founded in this small country around the time it became an independent state. The role of missionaries was promoted as something that we could collectively feel proud of. Most of these men and women are now either elderly or have already died. Ireland has undergone huge changes in the past 20 years with the role of the Catholic Church having greatly diminished. What began as a family project slowly grew into a documentary film. I assembled rich archive footage of Catholic Ireland in the early decades of the 20th century and, along with Jennie’s personal photo collection, began to piece together a picture of her life story in its historical context.

As someone who was living away from home myself, I related to Jennie’s journey of exile and adventure in a very personal way. Throughout the year-long period of filming, I became closer to her and the questions became more centred on identity, life’s purpose and spirituality.
Filming also focused on Jennie’s wide circle of friends and past pupils in Japan. I was deeply touched by the impact she had had on so many Japanese women down through the decades.
Assembling the different elements of her story allowed me to act as a bridge between her and dozens of close friends and past pupils in Japan where she said her heart remained.

Overall, recording Jennie’s memories was a deeply moving, life-changing experience for me. I also believe it will allow future generations of Irish to understand this period of our history better, in particular at a time when so much of the Catholic Church’s influence has been rejected.