Dir.: Katsuya Tomita; Documentary with Chiken Kawaguchi, Ryugyo Kurashima; Japan 2019, 59 min.
Director/co-writer Katsuya Tomita (Bangkok Nights) finances his films from his sideline as a truck-driver although this seems counter intuitive to his latest – a portrait of two Zen Buddhist monks who have immersed themselves into community life after the Tsunami and Fukushima disasters.
In Zen temples, there are six prestigious posts – cooking, care, hospitality, attentiveness towards others and, more generally, the issue of community. Tenzo is the name of the position given to the person responsible for meals and Tomita film echoes this with is chapters named after flavours: “spicy”, “sweet” etc. The post incumbant must also teach important aspects of the doctrine.
The monks are called Chiken and Ryugyo. Both of them were deeply affected by the nuclear disaster in Fukushima, and both of them decided to spend their lives serving their fellow countrymen and women. Chiken, teaches culinary practice as an art of living and devotes some of his time to working on a suicide prevention hotline. The other, Ryugyo, supports the earthquake victims in his own modest but very practical way.
But life in Japan has changed fundamentally since the Tsunami and Fukushima Daiichi nuclear catastrophes. Chiken and Ryyugyo are trying to follow the teachings of Dogen, who was the Dojo of the Soto Buddhist school. Dogen saw himself as a vessel of Buddha’s teaching, which should be practised every day for twenty-four hours. He asked his students to answer the question what is the best way to live this short life. Every second is precious. Eating meals is another way to practise Buddha’s teaching. But so is washing your face and going to the toilet. According to Dogen everything we do in life can teach us something. So he devised the titular Tenzo regimes, including an outline for the monk’s meal duties. Chiken lives now in a temple in Yamanashi and offers cooking classes, after having learned the importance of food, since his son Hiro has suffered from many food allergies. He is in charge of daily ceremonies, but also runs a suicide hotline. Ryugyo is working mainly as a construction worker, helping the community in Fukushima to rebuilt their lives after the twin disasters.
The images of DoPs Takuma Fuuruya and Masahiro Mukoyama are ludic and transparent, like Dogen’s teachings. The lighting in the temple sequences is remarkable and otherworldly. On the other hand, the realism of the everyday life Chiken and Ryugyo are facing now is shown in all its hardship. Tenzo is surreal yet socially relevant, a small gem. AS
FID MARSEILLE | 9 -15 JULY 2019