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Saturday, May 20, 2006

Opus Dei revels in chance to explain itself

Staff writer

The intense promotion for the film "The Da Vinci Code," which opens Saturday, is casting attention on a quiet corner of Japan's religious community.

News photo
Passersby Check out posters for "The Da Vinci Code" at JR Tokyo Station on Friday, a day before the controversial movie's worldwide debut.

The Roman Catholic group Opus Dei's Japan headquarters in Ashiya, Hyogo Prefecture, has received 100 calls in the last three months. It's roughly a 20-fold increase, as the group used to only get one or two queries about the organization a month.

The attention is coming from the portrayal of Opus Dei in the best-selling novel and film, in which a following of the Catholic group commits several murders and practices bloody corporal mortification, including self-flagellation.

And it is a curiosity to know more that is drawing "Da Vinci Code" readers, according to group spokesman Seizo Inabata.

"This has been a good opportunity to spread our message," said Inabata, who joined as a lay member when he was in college. "We've received some calls from people asking for advice about how we can turn their daily actions into opportunities to get closer to God."

Inabata downplayed the practice of self-flagellation, saying followers use very light cords. "The discipline is more like fasting. There is no blood at the first blow, like in the movie," he claimed.

The Catholic Bishops' Conference of Japan, unlike its counterparts in predominantly Catholic countries, has no plans to call for a boycott of the film, which some people find offensive for saying Christ had married Mary Magdalene and had a child with her.

"The movie is doctrinally wrong, and followers say they won't go," conference spokeswoman Mayumi Kaku said. "But no protests or boycotts are planned. I suppose it's because of the Japanese disposition" of not being very vocal about things they oppose.

Less than 1 percent of Japan's population is Christian. There were 450,125 Roman Catholics as of December 2004 out of a Christian population of 1,088,676, according to the Kirisuto Shimbun, an independent Japanese-language weekly that focuses on Christian issues.

Sony Pictures Entertainment (Japan) Inc., the film's distributor for Japan, is putting the film on 863 screens nationwide and hopes to make 10 billion yen at the box office, which translates into 8 million viewers.

"Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone," released in December 2002 in Japan, is currently the highest-grossing foreign film here, with 20.3 billion yen in box office sales.

Kadokawa Shoten Publishing Co. has sold 2.3 million hard cover copies of "The Da Vinci Code" part one and part two in translation since it was released in 2004.

About 6.5 million paperback copies of volumes one through three were sold between March and Thursday.

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The Japan Times

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