Thanks to the support of over 150 backers, we made it to our Kickstarter base goal of 10k in just over a week! We’ve been floored by the overwhelming amount of support for this project, and we are extremely grateful to each and every one of you.
During the rest of our Kickstarter campaign, we’d like to continue to reach for a higher budget to make the best film we can possibly make. A 15k budget would allow for a more comfortable shoot with higher production value. Our stretch goal could cover a quality sound technician to accompany us on the day of the pilgrimage, polished sound design and visuals during the post production process, a great score to match our beautiful visuals, and an additional shoot with a traditional tebori tattoo artist. Please continue to make pledges, spread the word, and read about our film below!
In Japan, getting a tattoo often means living a life of being stereotyped as a criminal. Without even saying a word, people with tattoos are seen as dangerous and existing on the unclean fringes of society. Almost anyone who has ever been to a public bathhouse in Japan has seen the ubiquitous signs prohibiting tattooed people from entering. But this stigma is a recent phenomenon that developed after World War II, and was largely propagated through the film and entertainment industry.
But every summer, there is a spiritual pilgrimage in Japan that challenges these stereotypes and shows tattoos in a different light. In this journey, Japanese tattoo artists and tattooed individuals gather at the holy mountain of Oyama for a day-long purification pilgrimage. In their normal lives, they have to keep their tattoos hidden from others at the risk of being shunned or fired from their jobs. But on this one day, they climb up a mountain and strip down to all but their traditional fundoshi underwear, to reveal their tattoos in a shrine and honor them before each other and to the forces of nature. The pilgrims descend the mountain into the local communities, where they interact with villagers who welcome them with an openness that they never have the chance of feeling elsewhere in Japan. It's a tradition that's been practiced every year for over a century.
This summer, with the guidance and mentorship from the Sundance Institute, we will make a short documentary film following the Chōyūkai during their pilgrimage. Our film will be a window into this very rare space where Japanese tattoos are celebrated.
Traditional Japanese, hand-poked tattoos are called horimono, which means 'engraving,' and they developed alongside woodblock prints in the Edo period (1603 - 1868). A full suit takes countless hours, over many painful sessions, over the course of several years to create. It can end up costing the equivalent of $50,000~$100,000. And yet, after all of that sacrifice, these tattoos end up being something that needs to stay hidden. The pilgrimage at Oyama mountain is the only space that accepts the public display of tattoos.
Little is known about the history of Japan before the introduction of written language to the archipelago in the 8th century CE. But archeological evidence suggests that Oyama has been a powerhouse for pilgrimages from well beyond the beginnings our written memories.
With our film, we want to examine how and why the people who are stereotyped as being the furthest from spiritual purity are drawn to the spiritual magnet of Oyama. Is this pilgrimage a paradox, or have these individuals been portrayed in caricature for decades?
Both international and domestic media tend to sensationalize Japanese tattoo culture while failing to depict its larger history or the broad range of people in Japan who choose to decorate their bodies in this way, and their reasons for doing so.
We have a tight knit crew of four members, including our producer, two co-directors and our cinematographer. The style will be intimate and unobtrusive to avoid disturbing the ritual, often in a verité, fly-on-the-wall type of coverage. The audio from our sit-down interviews will carry us through the event, as the participants explain the tradition and their perspectives in their own voice.
We plan to film at one of the tattoo artist’s tattoo shop to get footage of the traditional tebori tattoo process, which is done entirely by hand. In this setting, we will ask about perceptions held by the general public, and how the tattoo community in Japan deals with them. Our film will also include interviews with the shrine priest, as well as the innkeeper who facilitates the pilgrimage as part of a direct ancestral lineage that has been hosting the pilgrimage for centuries. We will ask why the maintenance of this tradition is important to them, and what it would mean to them if this tradition is lost. Finally, we will interview the leader and members of the Chōyūkai, and follow them throughout their pilgrimage.
We have obtained exclusive access to the Chōyūkai and the key pilgrimage areas for this event, granted to us after repeated meetings with the the shrine, the local government, and the Chōyūkai. This access is incredibly rare and capturing this story would be impossible without it.
In April, we conducted preliminary interviews with the chairman and vice-chairman of the Chōyūkai, the shrine priest, and the innkeeper/pilgrimage guide. We have also met with city officials and secured all permits and access. We have since done additional research and preparation in Tokyo and Yokohama, which will continue right up until filming in July. We have allotted two months afterwards for post production and we are looking to have a completed film by the end of October.
- Preliminary research and meetings at the pilgrimage site
- Secured all necessary permissions
- Additional research in Tokyo and Yokohama
August - October 2019
- Post Production
Release and schedule of viewings
2020- Possible companion book released by Alex Reinke and Luca Ortis
Our crew members have a combined 30 years of film industry experience, and have worked on films broadcast throughout the world. We have all the necessary equipment, software, and skills to create a compelling, broadcast-quality documentary. The film will also be receiving support and mentorship from Sundance through the Ignite Fellowship program. We have the full cooperation of our subjects and the local community, including the city office, the pilgrimage leaders, and the head priest of the Shinto shrine where we will be filming. We have been granted unprecedented access to film sacred ceremonies inside the shrine.
ALICE GORDENKER | producer
Alice is a journalist and consultant who has lived and worked in Tokyo for more than 20 years, producing hundreds of stories about Japan for newspapers, magazines and television. For over a decade she was a columnist for The Japan Times, Japan’s oldest English-language daily, and has a dedicated following of people interested in Japan. She has worked for many years with NHK, Japan’s public broadcaster, translating and writing scripts for programs on language, culture and travel. In 2008 she wrote, directed, and presented a program on the Japanese art of aging gracefully that was broadcast around the world as part of NHK’s international programming. Alice has appeared as a reporter on numerous NHK World programs including Tokyo Eye, Journeys in Japan and J-Trip Plan. Alice graduated from Princeton University with a B.A. in East Asian Studies and speaks fluent Japanese. Since 2015, she has served as a special consultant to the pilgrimage site we will be reporting on in this film, forging close ties to the community that were vital in securing us access.
DAVID CAPRARA | co-director
David is a journalist based in Japan. He was formerly a producer in the New York bureau of Japan’s public broadcaster NHK and a reporter for the Japanese daily newspaper The Tokyo Shimbun. He pitched and produced a number of documentaries with Vice and his documentary on the Honey Hunters of Nepal won a Webby Award in 2017. His written work has been published with various international media outlets including Al Jazeera America, The Atlantic, The Columbia University Journal of International Affairs, Global Post, The Guardian, The Japan Times, The Kathmandu Post, NBC News, UPI, USA Today, and Vice.
KIRA DANE | co-director, editor
Kira is a filmmaker, illustrator, and native New Yorker. She is half-Japanese and speaks Japanese fluently. Kira attended New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts and received a degree in Film & TV. After graduating, she worked as an associate producer on Humans of New York: The Series, which was nominated for an Emmy award. Kira was recently chosen as the recipient of the Tribeca If/Then Shorts Award, as well as a 2019 fellow of the Sundance Ignite Program. She is an active member of the Brooklyn Filmmakers Collective.
MICHAEL CROMMETT | director of photography
Michael is a Brooklyn-based cinematographer who specializes in documentary filmmaking. Michael cut his teeth filming on the streets of New York City for 3 1/2 years on the Emmy nominated “Humans of New York: The Series.” He has also shot around the world. Whether high school baseball in Japan, life in the slums of Manila, or subjects throughout the United States, Michael maintains his focus on story and empathy which are essential to a successful image. In addition to his documentary work, he has filmed promotional content for major corporations such as Nike, HSBC, and Keurig, and award winning scripted short films.
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Your contribution is essential for us in completing production, covering international and domestic travel, lodging, costs of obtaining archival footage, the international carnet required for bringing photographic equipment into Japan, and minimum fair wages for our crew. It will also go towards post-production costs of editing, music and sound mixing.
Our stretch goal will go towards hiring a talented production sound mixer for our pilgrimage shoot, paying our crew fair wages, and generally creating a film with higher production value.
We want to show the film to as wide an audience as possible, including festivals, independent film houses, community screenings, special events, and at museums, where the film can be augmented with text, audio and stills to create a rich, interactive experience faithful to subject. We will pursue options with international digital outlets as well. Please don't hesitate to reach out with suggested venues or opportunities for screening. If you're an editor of a media outlet and would like to contact us about airing this on your network, feel free to reach out at the email provided below.
Thank you for taking the time to check out our project. You can help us by making a pledge now! We would also really appreciate it if you could help spread the word by sharing this page. Kickstarter is all-or-nothing so we need to reach our goal of $10,000 by July 24, 2019 in order to receive any of the pledged funds to make this film! Your credit card won't be charged unless we raise the entire amount.
If you have any problems with the payment system, or have questions about the film, please email us at email@example.com. To stay updated, you can follow our Instagram or Facebook at @horimono.film
Risks and challenges
Any film shoot involves risk and problem-solving. But we are lucky to have a ton of support from the local village and shrine, and we're confident we can quickly overcome any issues that may arise.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
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