JAPANLAND is a journey into the soul of Japan. For an entire year, adventure filmmaker and author Karin Muller immersed herself in Japanese society. Speaking Japanese and living with geisha and samurai archers, mountain ascetics and pearl divers, Karin gained access to the most intimate - and surprising - aspects of Japanese culture. The result is a rare look behind the tatemai - Japan's public face - to see the honne, the true inner character of Japan. JAPANLAND, is an entertaining, insightful, and often humorous look at a side of Japan that few foreigners have ever seen.
Suburban Samurai (#101)
The journey begins in Fujisawa, a Tokyo suburb where the government wages "bicycle war" against local commuters, and grueling three-day Shinto festival quickly deteriorates into a yakuza brawl. Down the Old Tokkaido Road, Karin rides steam trains, joins the spectacular -and dangerous - Gion Festival in Kyoto, investigates the ancient arts of papermaking and calligraphy, and eventually earns the trust of a geisha, who reveals the secrets behind the mysterious Willow World. A 24th generation sword maker in Kamakura demonstrates the art of forging a true samurai blade and even divulges his deadly sword-cutting techniques. The Japanese fascination with its samurai past is amply demonstrated at a festival of thinly-veiled feudal combat, where an old man is injured- perhaps fatally. A samurai mounted archery team reveal another side of the warrior code, as they ride galloping horses while handling a 2 meter longbow, and practice archery while balancing on a tightrope. In nearby Tokyo we find a different breed of warrior - young sumo wrestlers - who train from 5AM each day and lead a life of rigid, feudal discipline. Inspired, Karin travels to Wakayama, to immerse herself in its 48 sacred waterfalls in an icy midwinter ritual. [56 minutes]
Spiritland follows Japan's most famous pilgrimage - a 1400 km trek around the country's fourth-largest island. The sacred journey begins at Koya monastery, where the monks chant endless sutras, scrub floors, and survive on a near-starvation diet of rice and pickles. Several shrines and temples along the pilgrim trail host unusual events -like the Naked Festival - where rival gangs fight viciously over a sacred Shinto stick. Even more unexpected is one-man sumo - where a sumo champ does battle with the local shrine god - and bull sumo -where two tons of angry bull battle it out in a titanic clash of razor-sharp horns. Pilgrims are well respected, and are often invited into the homes of farmers and fishermen and even the legendary female peal divers, the Samurai of the Sea. Seafood is a huge part of Shikoku's island economy, and Karin is introduced to maggot fish and cormorant fishing, and spends several days aboard a high-tech Japanese fishing fleet. The catch goes straight to Tsukiji in Tokyo -the world's largest seafood market. Occasionally every pilgrim spends the night in a cave or broken-down bus, though invitations are also common - to help an old woman harvest her peaches, join a croquet game, or volunteer at a temple during Obon, the Festival of the Dead. When the festival is finally over the people of Miyazu light ten thousand floating candles to lead the spirits back home. [56 minutes]
Mountain Gods and Businessmen opens on a mountain cult ceremony, where the participants walk on burning coals. Back in their sacred mountain hideaway the cultists undergo a secret training, with bizarre rituals and surprising revelations. Once the training is over, fall harvest in the surrounding village goes into full swing. The Basketman, a flamboyant and quirky character, does a thriving business with little more than a basket, rope, and rice paste. Further down the ancient Nakasendo highway, a potter spends six grueling days firing his traditional wood-burning kiln. On the other side of Japan, a million daily commuters plunge into Osaka's subway system each morning. Many of them stay until well past midnight and have to fight their way aboard the notorious last train. Those who don't make it often end up at a pachinko parlor and then crawl into a coffin-sized room at a capsule hotel. Osaka is filled with colorful characters, including Adam Cooley, a painfully shy American who makes his living as a street performer. The nearby Ebisu festival celebrates wealth and money, but right around the corner the homeless - like Nishida-san - are struggling to make ends meet. He collects aluminum cans for a living and eats at volunteer kitchens whenever he can. In an attempt to better their lives, the homeless organize a tense march against the government, to lay flowers at the murder site of one of their own. [56 minutes]
The Final Test (#104)
Winter in northwestern Honshu Island is bitterly cold. The inhabitants of one village distract themselves by staging winter kabuki, a 7-hour play held outdoors, in the snow. In nearby Yamagata a taiko drumming team is preparing for its own dramatic performance, complete with hissing dragons. One of the drummers returns to her village, where her mother employs a dozen housewives to build Nissan electrical harnesses in her basement. In Kyoto, winter brings out many ancient traditions, like the centuries-old court football, noodle sellers, and neighborhood fire patrols. Finally the series sums up some of the seeming contradictions of Japan: the young people in Tokyo with their nose plugs and purple hair versus traditional village life on Noto Peninsula. High-tech assembly lines competing with a traditional sake-making factory. A raw fish restaurant and beer-fed beef and crab fishing - all facing depleted resources and an uncertain future. Japan's emerging modern religions compared to its ancient Shinto beliefs. Osaka's elusive Lion Dancers provide a final glimpse behind the tatemai - the public face - to see the honne, the true inner character of Japan. [56 minutes]