might sound like a character from Mad TV,
but the hip hop Buddhist priest is a perfect example of how the traditional and
the modern peacefully coexist in Japan.
He will be one of our guides in Tim Grabham & Neil Cantwell’s KanZeOn (trailer here), a ruminative
documentary-essay exploration of the relationship between Buddhism and music in
Japanese culture, which screens during the 2013 International Buddhist Film Festival Showcase in the Bay Area.
is another word for the Buddhist embodiment of compassion. It is often written in a way that evokes
sound and visual beauty. There are many enchanting
sounds in KanZeOn, such as Eri
Fujii’s shō. At least in small doses,
the pipe instrument has an eerie splendor and of course it has an origin based
as Fujii often plays to the accompaniment of nature’s ambient noise, Akinobu
Tatsumi also beatboxes to the sounds of the great outdoors. Buddhism and music are his family traditions. He has his share of stories too, such as how
his temple’s ancient bell was saved from the scrap metal drive during
WWII. Watching him give a hip hop
presentation to a ladies society is quite a sight to behold, but it clearly
appeals to Grabham and Cantwell’s sensibilities.
Buddhism there could be no Noh theater explains kotsuzumi drummer Akihiro
Iitomi, KanZeOn’s third POV
figure. There is a marked austerity to
the music he plays for his company’s productions, yet he is a regular visitor
to the Dolphy Jazz Bar, where the music swings pretty hard from what we
hear. Again, tradition and modernity
KanZeOn is surprisingly
avant-garde in its conception, but strikingly elegant in its execution. In fact, it compares quite favorably to Castaing-Taylor
and Paravel’s deliberately obscure Leviathan
opening today in New York. Frankly,
there are times when it is impossible to tell whether their camera is above or
below the ocean. Whereas that over-hyped
commercial fishing doc is all about how they problematize the viewing
experience, KanZeOn will work with
audiences willing to meet it halfway.
like Tatsumi, Grabham and Cantwell demonstrate a hip hop tendency to sample and
juxtapose. Yet, the music, stories, and
lush natural scenery always give viewers plenty to hold onto. Indeed, those scenes of light rain falling on
Shinto shrines look wonderfully inviting after a long day of urban bustle. More importantly, for the spiritually
inclined or questioning, there are plenty of take-aways to be found sprinkled throughout
the film in unlikely places.
Defying easy categorization, KanZeOn has an impressionistic
you-are-there sense of Japan and the rituals it observes. It might not be a broadly-based destination
film at the IBFF Showcase (such as Mindfulness and Murder, The Great Pilgrim, and Digital Dharma), but those interested in the festival’s themes will likely get
quite a bit out of it. Recommended
accordingly, KanZeOn screens this
Sunday (3/3) at the Smith Rafael Film Center and next Saturday (3/9) at the Yerba
Buena Center for the Arts.
Labels: Buddhism on film, Documentary, IBFF Showcase '13