I Directed this Documentary Film in Japan in 2012, where I was invited to be an Artist in Residence.
This was an incredible shoot. Very physical, it was hot and humid and there were many challenges.
I travelled to Yamagata Provence in Northern Japan. It was an amazing place. Very spiritual, and I did not see another westerner for a week.
My crew consisted of Mile Nagaoka from Green Valley and Camera / Sound Assistant Taigo Kawaguchi. We communicated in pigeon English.
We were here to film the Yamabushi training. Essentially, this involved us taking part in the training, as well as making the film.
Fumihiro Hoshino is a 13th generation Yamabushi, someone who guides people on Shugyo ascetic training in Japan. He was the Master, and I decided to structure the film around him. It was very challenging interviewing him in loosely translated Japanese, but after spending several days with the group - I was confident that I understood the sentiment.
The first night was wonderful. An amazing meal with just the crew and the Yamabushi Master. The next day was a little bit different….
We began to walk. Lot's of walking. Day one I was told that we would take a short stroll… we walked up 4500 steps to a temple. This in itself was a challenge, but to throw in the heavy Red Epic camera equipment, and the awkward clothing, and I struggled. Myself and my crew did not make it all the way, we were carrying too much weight and my giant western feet that stuck out of the split toe Japanese slippers were in pain.
We were all living in the same tatami mat room. I grabbed a corner for battery charging and downloading.
A far cry from the first night's meal, we were now on a starvation diet consisting of one bowl of rice, soup and two vegetables.
The chanting and prayers stopped at 11pm, and after a mosquito filled night we were woken at 4am.
This was the big day, and I had negotiated to be allowed to wear my own clothes and shoes. This was to prove to be a great decision. I stripped back the camera equipment to two lenses, 3 batteries and 3 Redmags. Weight was going to be critical. (I must also admit that I cheated and packed some extra water, a Pocari Sweat Isotonic Drink… and a couple of candy bars…)
I was told that the walk would take us about 2 to 3 hours… so I assumed 5. In the end the hike up the mountain took over 8 hours. It was a massive day. I had to film the group as they would pass me, then run ahead to catch up and repeat the process. It was tough, but it was also absolutely beautiful and satisfying.
Chanting and prayers again along with the starvation meal. Everyone was exhausted. I was so tired that I really had to concentrate on my downloading… I could not afford to make a mistake.
Up at 4am again, woken by the sound of the conch. We loaded up and started off back to the 4500 steps that had defeated me earlier. I have to say, after the previous days marathon, it was a breeze. I practically ran up the steps, and the morning light was beautiful to work with.
We got to the top, and the temple was very cool. I looked over… and a car drove past. I couldn't believe it! Apparently there was a road up to the top, but we took the steps!
The weekend was over. Everyone was tired, but we all had a great sense of accomplishment. We sat around and had a feast, including the biggest cup of Sake I have ever seen. It was a great experience, and I was honoured to be invited into the group and I am proud to be Yamabushi.
Director + DP: Ben Ruffell