LIVING YOUR DYING – A Video Documentary
For over four decades the Rev. Dr. Aoki has shown others how to experience death not merely as an end, but as a vital, inseparable part of life. This film explores his personal journey and the stories of four courageous individuals who faced the challenge of “living their dying.”
a documentary produced by Lotus Films
Executive Producer: Didi Leong
Director: Robert Pennybacker
Director, Documentary Footage: Joy Chong-Stannard
Script: Robert Pennybacker, Diane Mei Lin Mark
Time: approximately 57 mins
Format: VHS/DVD, Color
Individual copies of the “Living Your Dying” DVD are available by contacting MitsAokiLegacy@hawaii.rr.com
By Vicki Viotte, Advertiser Staff Writer
It’s an experience shared by all humanity, and yet nobody can say what it’s like. Is it any wonder that dying is a subject that inspires so much trepidation?
That’s the hope of director Robert Pennybacker, producer Didi Leong and others associated with “Living Your Dying,” a project 10 years in the making that centers on the counseling Aoki, a retired minister and University of Hawai’i religion professor, gives to three terminal patients.Death is a wonder, an integral part of life, Mitsuo “Mits” Aoki insists in a documentary set to air tonight on PBS Hawai’i. If viewers can get beyond its shocking images, they may appreciate the stark beauty of the human process.
Pennybacker, who is himself a survivor of advanced colon cancer, winnowed 104 hours of documentary footage, directed by Joy Chong-Stannard, to a 57-minute video.
The deathbed scene of the first patient, Joseph Michael Thomson, first seen still energetic and communicative and then gaunt and unable to speak, is the most wrenching.
Pennybacker wove the stories of Thomson, Fay Nalani Myers and Martha Ululani Mendiola around themes of resources that can be tapped by the dying and their loved ones: family, community and spirituality. Adding to the documentary’s appeal: The spiritual resource exemplified here, Mendiola’s surrender to the meditative quality of hula, is not bound up in a single conventional religious tradition.”When I first saw the footage, I said, ‘I don’t think this should be in,'” he said. “Mits said, ‘It really should be in, because it shows what we’re talking about; it shows death. Then it became an integral part of the story.”
Supplemented by beautiful imagery and the narrative verse of poet Gail Harada, the finished product is a credit to PBS Hawai’i.
Pennybacker said, “This is about real suffering and real pain, but there’s redemption at the end of it.”
“The makers of “Living Your Dying” want viewers of the video to see how death is part of the beauty of the human process.” Greg Yamamoto • The Honolulu Advertiser
“Thank you for the excellent program on Living Your Dying. I watched this riveting program tonite and was totally immersed in it…including the anguish and the solitude. After experiencing the passing of my hero and best friend (my dad and my sister), six months ago, within two weeks of each other this has helped me to look at other facets of their life and passing. I am not yet past the grieving, but many things in this program are pertinent to my situation and I will try to use what I have learned here.”
Living Your Dying honors the work of Mitsuo Aoki — and does it justice.
Living Your Dying, the new 57-minute video by Lotus Films and PBS Hawai‘i, is a beautiful, beautifully done document about the life and work of the Rev. Mitsuo Aoki, whose work with the dying has occupied at least 50 of his 87 years. The project, a result of over five years’ work by a collection of O‘ahu film/video talents, is simply one of the best filmic achievements in Hawai‘i in many years.B
It manages — as best an hour’s experience can — to do justice to Aoki’s ground-breaking work with the dying, one-on-one sessions to aid the dying to come to an understanding of death as a vital, inseparable part of life.
In this video, we see “Mits” at work with three such individuals, all since having passed away: Fay Nalani Myers, Martha Ululani Mendiola and Joseph Michael Thomson — all of whom allowed themselves to be filmed in various stages of their illness. (We also see Mits helping his late wife prepare for her death.)
A “Big Island boy,” as Aoki describes himself, the reverend studied at Chicago Theological Seminary; later, he studied at Union Theological Seminary and Columbia University, writing his Ph.D. dissertation on the “meaning of death.” Aoki was then invited to teach at the University of Hawai‘i, establishing the Department of Religion, where he taught his “Death and Dying” course for over 40 years, was central in the Hospice movement here, and later established the Foundation for Holistic Healing, as well as Make Today Count, an organization for terminally ill patients.
The film finds the essence of Aoki’s teachings (and teaching methods), creates sensitive visual correlatives for them, and, above all, lets Aoki’s words, and gentle personality, tell the tale, which always ends the same way. It’s a wonderfully handled film that could have gone wrong a hundred ways.
And, always interposed in this documentary, is Aoki — in medium close-up, leaning forward into the camera — explaining his world view, of how to accept one’s dying without resignation but as a final experience to be lived as fully as one can. He talks directly to us when he talks about these matters — as well he should.
From the Honolulu Weekly, June 4, 2003