KanZeOn consists of a series of interrelated short films – so-called “Indications” – which form a kind of introduction to various aspects of Japanese Buddhism. The style of presentation is that of a documentary, but with only small amounts of narration and dialogue (mostly in the form of interviews); rather, we are taken on a pictorial and auditory journey that communicates moods and sensations, likely intended to convey the calm and serenity of Buddhism; its very soul.
The main and recurring theme is music and theatre; there are several segments about Noh theatre, and a couple about a woman musician who plays an instrument – the sho – said to reproduce the sound of a mythical phoenix. There is also a young priest who uses the sounds of nature to create hip-hop music. “Music and religion are the same to me,” he explains. The movie as a whole seems to demonstrate how modern Buddhism is not just a dusty old religion, but keeps reinventing itself by incorporating new elements into it all the time. All the aspects and experiences of people’s lives become part of it.
We are told of some of the supernatural elements in Japanese Buddhism and the way it interacts with older, indigenous deities. Noh theatre, for instance, is a ceremonial Buddhist project intended to ease the pain of suffering old gods. This seems like an interesting reversal of the usual relationship between man and gods, where gods are usually believed to be able to ease the suffering of man.
KanZeOn, apparenty, is the Buddhist goddess of compassion. I was not aware that Buddhism operated with gods and goddesses besides the Buddha himself and similarly enlightened human beings (nor are any other gods mentioned in Wikipedia’s Buddhism entry), but I suppose this is a consequence of local Buddhisms being mixed and fused with the other old religions of a given country or culture.
Director: Neil Cantwell and Tim Grabham
Runtime: 87 min.
Country: Japan / UK