Buddhism, Ancestors, and the 2011 Tsunami in Japan
The documentary “Souls of Zen — Buddhism, Ancestors, and the 2011 Tsunami in Japan” presents perspectives on Buddhism as practiced by clergy, lay adherents, and families in Japan by drawing on ethnographic fieldwork on the daily life of Buddhist temples, monastic education, prayer practice, mortuary rituals, and Japan’s tradition of ancestor veneration in the wake of 3/11. From March to December 2011, Tim Graf and Jakob Montrasio filmed invaluable footage of the greatest religious mobilization in Japan´s postwar history. This film is the only documentary based on sustained attention to the everyday lives of Buddhist professionals in the disaster zone.
In an ethnographic journey from Tokyo to the hardest-hit prefectures (among other regions in Japan) Souls of Zen covers insights and opinions from scholars, clergy, and lay adherents with a focus on Soto Zen and Jodo Pure Land Buddhism. The filmmakers visited rural graveyards, urban temples, modern funeral halls, prayer monasteries, and public festivals to deliver a detailed account on Buddhism in the midst of Japan´s recovery from the triple disasters.
The unfamiliar institutional, doctrinal, and psychological challenges Buddhist clergy are facing in the wake of 3/11 form a focal point of the film. These challenges will be discussed in context of long-standing Buddhist traditions, ritual innovations, and religious responses to the March 11, 2011 disaster in Japan. The film intends to re-evaluate the complex role of Buddhism in a society struggling with the sudden impact of catastrophic disasters that exacerbate and otherwise alter continuing dilemmas occasioned by demographic change and religious pluralism.
Also see Invisible Snow. An inspiring film about a Buddhist monk, Koyu Abe, who instigated the planting of millions of sunflowers to absorb the radiation coming from the Fukushima nuclear plant.