By JUN KAWASAKI
Dolores Hart, 74, an Oscar nominee, walked the red carpet at last year’s Academy Awards wearing a nun’s habit from the Benedictine Abbey of Regina Laudis in Bethlehem, Conn., where she now lives a life of contemplation and hospitality.
Mother Dolores, as she is now known, was the subject of the documentary “God Is the Bigger Elvis,” aired April 5 on HBO. The documentary short recounts her life as a nun after a career in Hollywood co-starring with Elvis Presley (“Loving You” in 1957 and “King Creole” in 1958).
Starring in others with Anthony Quinn and George Hamilton, her fond memory is “Lisa” from 1962, in which she played a Jewish refugee after World War II. Before the documentary, her last role was in 1963’s “Come Fly With Me,” about loving flight attendants.
“God Is the Bigger Elvis” inquires into Mother Dolores’ life in Hollywood and at the monastery, to the day-to-day life of the nuns, which is also a working farm. Akin to Mother Dolores, a large number of nuns in her community had varied mundane vocations before they changed.
As an actress, Mother Dolores participated in three Academy Award events held at the Santa Monica Civic. On her return attendance after 50 years, Mother Dolores looked forward to seeing “the motion picture industry at work.”
Converted to Catholicism at 10, she recalls visiting the monastery at 21 and feeling a tug at her heart that maybe she should devote her life to God. But, at the time the community’s lady abbess felt she was too involved to give up her Hollywood career. Four years later she knew the time was right.
With her mounting experience in life as an entertainer, she had come to understand the implications of what was necessary. The eventual realization of need caught up with her, and she felt more mature as a person, ready to appear before the abbess. While loving her career in Hollywood, she was answering a call to the spiritual.
Severing her academy membership at the advice of the lady abbess, she was reinstated in 1990, and the academy sent her films to be evaluated. Mother Dolores, as a nun, is not shocked by anything she sees in contemporary films. She is convinced Hollywood reflects the problems in the society — not Hollywood creating the problems.
An analogy is recounted in the life of Setouchi Harumi, 91, a graduate of Tokyo Girls’ College, a former actress with a career revolving on novels depicting women entailed in love and sexual intrigue. Three decades ago, a captivating Buddhist nun emerged, buttressed by precursors of life. Ordained Setouchi Jakucho, a spiritual mentor sought by young and old, she is acclaimed with unparalleled popularity in the Japanese media, including contemporary features on television.
The November 2011 issue of Bungei Shunju, a monthly literary arts magazine, featured an article on “longevity” by Shirasawa Takuji, professor of postgraduate research at Juntendo College of Medicine. A poignant interview with Setouchi reveals a non-conforming nutritional regimen – eating fish, meat, and drinking (alcohol). In spite of her conscious attempts to heed the diet imposed on the ordained, she admits restraint becomes difficult at social events to which she is oft invited. All in all, adhering to frugality, she is given to enjoying a long life.
Digressing a bit, Setouchi Jakucho is noted for her spoken Japanese version of the lengthy and poignant “Tale of Genji” (Genji Monogatari) by Murasaki Shikibu (978-1014), written in arduous bygone Japanese classic manuscript. This work offers a delightful glimpse into a life possessed by the once-upon-a-time aristocratic royal court where Murasaki served. It captures the image of an aloof society of ultra-refined elegance where vitality is enshrined in poetry, music, calligraphy, and courtship. The novel is infused with sensitivity to human emotions and to the beauties of nature hardly parallel elsewhere. The temper of the novel reveals Murasaki’s Buddhist conviction of vanities of life.
Of late, Mikuni Rentaro, a veteran entertainer of Japan for over 50 years, died earlier this year after logging a wealth of notable character movies — well recalled in a television series featuring him as an aloof company president persistently scheming to go fishing with a confidant employee who in turn curried favor with him.
Of his next-to-last two movies, a deep sense of destiny quickened him to dramatize his “Shiroi-michi” (A Transparent Path) novel, a narrative take on the life of Shinran, for which he set himself as the producer, director and main actor. It was nominated for a Cannes Film Festival award. Beheld as a legacy of Mikuni Rentaro, “Shiroi-michi” is a manuscript inspired by the life story of Shinran, who dared disavow the cloistered role of a priest forbearing 20 years of Tendai (T’ien t’ai) precept inducements at the Mount Hiei monastery (Kyoto). A letdown to chastisement, he defied celibacy (a first for a Buddhist cleric), and faced banishment to a remote northwestern region of Japan.
Shinran, with his newly found proactive role, was contented to settle in a village of fishermen families and benefit in the struggles of a normal everyday life. A belief derived from Sakyamuni Buddha, who embraced the sensibility to walk with the people and share awareness of the universal law, “peace of mind is sought in a transparent path” — not by delusions and/or discriminating concepts. Anjali.
Opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.