DER Documentary

Walking Pilgrims (Arukihenro)

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by Tommi Mendel
color, 73 min, 2006

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For a great number of people, the main motive for undertaking a pilgrimage consists in the journey itself - wandering along a path leading away from the familiar place and at the same time leading towards oneself. The road movie and documentary Walking Pilgrims (Arukihenro) focuses on today's Japanese wandering pilgrims, as they undertake the 88 Temples' Pilgrimage that circles the Japanese island of Shikoku.

Over 1000 years old, the Shikoku Henro connects 88 predetermined sacred places along a 1400 km route that circles Japan's fourth largest island, Shikoku. The pilgrimage follows the path of the holy monk Kobo Daishi (774-835), founder of Japanese Shingon Buddhism, who is said to have attained enlightenment on his ascetic wanderings through the prefectures of Tokushima, Kochi, Ehime and Kagawa.

Despite the increasing secularization of Japanese society, the 88 Temples' Pilgrimage retains its popularity. Besides the huge crowds of bus and taxi tours that make up about 99% of the pilgrims, there are still a few walkers who undertake the entire pilgrimage in 40 to 60 days on foot. From youth at loose ends in Japan's changing economy to elderly people for whom walking the pilgrimage has been a lifelong dream, these pilgrims walk for a variety of reasons, but all find a common ground in the soothing rituals of the pilgrimage.

Walking Pilgrims (Arukihenro) was shot over a period of nine months, while the filmmakers themselves hiked along the entire route. Using ethnographic methods, the film investigates the motivations of today's pilgrims, with input from priests, academic experts and Shikoku residents. Using the pilgrimage as its starting point, Walking Pilgrims (Arukihenro) gives insight into the religious and socio-cultural roots of contemporary Japanese society.

"…Walking Pilgrims (Arukihenro) is an absorbing and intriguing journey into the inner lives of Japanese people today, and is an excellent representation of the complex and contradictory soul of modern Japan." — Peter Matanle, Electronic Journal of Contemporary Japanese Studies

Visit the filmmaker's website: Tiger Toda Productions

Film Festivals, Screenings, Awards
Bilan du Film Ethnographique, Paris, France, 2007
Worldfilm Festival of Visual Culture, Tartu, Estonia, 2007
NAFA Nordic Anthropological Film Association Festival, Trondheim, Norway, 2007
RAI International Festival of Ethnographic Film, Manchester, UK, 2007
Parnu International Documentary Film Festival, Parnu, Estonia, 2007
Mostra International do Filme Etnografico, Rio de Janeiro, Braszil, 2007
International Festival of Ethnological Film, Belgrade, Serbia, 2007
Vidovin Festival of Ethnographic and Documentary Film, Tolmin, Slovenia, 2007
Scientific Film Festival, National Museum of Ethnology, Osaka, Japan, 2008
Days of Ethnographic Film, Ljubljana, Slovenia, 2008
ETNOFILM Cadca 2008, Cadca, Slovakia
Religion Today - International Festival of Cinema & Religion, Trento, Italy, 2008
Association for Asian Studies Annual Meeting, Chicago, IL, 2009
T.H.I.S. Buddhist Film Festival, Singapore, 2009
International Festival for Arts and Media Yokohama, Japan, 2009

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