Twenty-two years ago, African American pastor Richard Hartley and Japanese vocal teacher Shin Ikesue joined forces to offer gospel music courses in Japanese vocational colleges. The courses were so popular the college now offers a major in gospel music.
SUPERNATURAL, a documentary by director Rosylyn Rhee that tells the story of Japanese students connecting with community and themselves through this African American tradition, is currently in the works. Although the students don’t understand Pastor Hartley—Ikesue translates his directions—they sing the English lyrics with the same heart and soul heard in American churches. In fact, the class travels to America every year to perform in black churches across the country. Perhaps Stacy Francis, a professional gospel singer, best explains the success of this uniquely African-American art form in a culture so seemingly different, like Japan: “You don’t have to speak English to feel it.”
Production on the film has begun, but the cost is high. A Kickstarter campaign opened this past Monday to help pay for travel to Japan.