SOAS University of London

Centre for the Study of Japanese Religions

CSJR Film workshop: Documenting Japanese Religions: A Shugendô Film Festival in Memory of Carmen Blacker (1924-2009).


Date: 24 March 2011Time: 11:00 AM

Finishes: 25 March 2011Time: 5:00 PM

Venue: Russell Square: College Buildings

Type of Event: Seminar

24 March 2011, 11:00 – 17:00,  Brunei Gallery Lecture Theater SOAS

25 March 2011, 13:00 – 17:00,  Brunei Gallery Lecture Theater SOAS

The Film Festival will broadcast three recent films concerning the Japanese mountain religion of Shugendo: “Shugendo Now” (Jan-Marc Abela and Mark Patrick McGuire, 2009), “Where Mountains Fly” (Sandra and Carina Roth, 2009) and “The Autumn Peak of Haguro Shugendo” (KITAMURA Minao, 2005, 2009). The value of these films lies in both what they portray – a religious tradition that rarely opens itself to non-participants or permits visual recording – and in how they portray it. Each film will be followed by a discussion with the filmmakers and questions from the audience. On the last day there will be a round-table discussion centering on the filmmakers and other experts. The directors will describe their motivations in making their films and their approaches to filming what is essentially a secret and closed tradition, and discuss more broadly the implications of their experiences for the making of ethnographic films.


Thursday March 24th, 2011

11:00 – 11:30                    Introduction by Gaynor Sekimori (SOAS)

11:30 – 12:30                   "Where Mountains Fly"  

(Sandra Roth and Carina Roth, Switzerland, 2009. Running time: 60 min. Language: Japanese, French and English)

The film combines animated images with documentary episodes to show both the past and present of Japanese mountain religion. Fictional footage, inspired by classical picture scrolls, describing the journey of the legendary founder of Shugendo in the mountains of the Kii peninsula, is combined with a description of the contemporary practitioners and their practices in those same mountains, including pilgrimage to sacred sites, waterfall practice, sutra chanting and fasting.

12:30 – 13:00                   Q&A and Discussion with Sandra and Carina Roth

13:00 – 14:30                   Lunch Break

14:30 – 16:30                   "The Autumn Peak of Haguro Shugendo" 

(KITAMURA Minao, Japan 2009. Running time: 115 min. Japanese and English)

The film is a traditional documentary in that its purpose is to preserve a unique religious practice for posterity. Yet while faithfully recording the ritual process, it shows viewers how the landscape is a silent partner in the religious activity and gives due attention to the human dimension of the practice.

16:30 – 17:00                   Q&A and Discussion with KITAMURA Minao

Friday March 25th, 2011

13:00 – 14:30                   "Shugendo Now"  

(Jan-Marc Abela and Mark Patrick McGuire, Canada, Japan 2009. Running time: 88 min. Japanese and English)

The film looks closely at the people who are involved in Shugendo practice, not “professional” practitioners but the lay participants who today are the main protagonists of Shugendo. It describes the practices they undertake in the Omine mountains but is equally interested in how modern urban dwellers integrate their experiences with their everyday lives.

14:30 – 15:00                   Q&A and Discussion with Mark McGuire

15:00 – 15:15                   Break

15:15 – 17:00                   Roundtable with the directors

Carina Roth finished her degree in Japanese studies at the University of Geneva in 1998. Between 1999 and 2001, she benefitted from a Japanese governmental research grant at Kyoto University, doing research in Japanese religion and history. After her return to Switzerland, she worked as a translator and redactor, until she started on her PhD in 2005 while holding a junior teaching position at the University of Geneva. She is currently in the final phase of her PhD on Shugendo, centered on the Shozan engi, the text around which "Where Mountains Fly" was constructed.

Sandra Roth graduated in 2001 from the Geneva School of Fine Arts, and did a master's degree in "Virtual reality and multimodal interaction" at the Ecole polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) in 2002. Since then, parallel to artistic projects, she specializes in video and animated images. From the end of 2004 on, after shooting “Where mountains fly” and while working on the postproduction of the film, she has been involved in various areas such as animation movies for museums, camera, editing and webdesign. Several of her projects over the years have been related to Japan.

KITAMURA Minao is a graduate of the Theatre Faculty of Waseda University, Tokyo. He trained as a director of feature films on graduation but developed a keen interest in documentary filmmaking and in the late 1960s recorded what was probably the last performance of a secret ritual maintained by women in Okinawa. Since then he has made anthropological films in India, Nepal, Tibet, China and Korea, as well as documenting folklore and religious customs from various regions of Japan. He helped set up the Japanese Ethnographical Film Society in 1978, having earlier established his own filmmaking company, Visual Folklore. He has interspersed his own films with award-winning television documentaries. He is a pioneer in cinematic anthropology.

Mark McGuire studied film as narrative art as part of his English degree at Davidson College in North Carolina. Following three years teaching English in a small village in northern Japan, he enrolled as a graduate student in Asian religions at Cornell University. There he became concerned with the ethical questions arising from the way western filmmakers present other cultures, but his belief that it is possible to transmit cross-cultural encounters through compelling documentaries led him to embark on “Shugendo Now”. He teaches humanities at John Abbott College in Montreal, Canada.

All Welcome

Organiser: Lucia Dolce

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Contact Tel: 0207 898 4217