ARUKU ( I Walk )

: Documentary Feature
GENRE: Documentary
STATUS: Post-Production


A soul-searching filmmaker documents chance encounters with fellow pilgrims who set out on a renowned Japanese pilgrimage extant since the 12th century. 


There are moments in our lives that we feel lost. We may be longing for change but trapped in old patterns or dealing with depression after a devastating event. For thousands of years, religious pilgrimages have served as one way to help us tackle these universal difficulties. Shikoku, a beautiful island surrounded by clear blue oceans and towered by divine mountains, is known for the backdrop of Japan’s most famous pilgrimage, where 150,000 pilgrims visit annually to complete the 750 mile circuit of 88 temples. It follows some of the same paths once trod by the Japanese Buddhist monk Kukai (A.K.A. Kobo Daishi: 774-835) who introduced the esoteric Shingon doctrine from China. It is said that during the journey, Kukai walks alongside each pilgrim, guiding them according to their needs, and extraordinary things happen. “Aruku” explores his concept of Kukai’s guidance by documenting chance encounters between the filmmaker and pilgrims. This leaves the fate of the filming to Kukai, just as the pilgrims entrusted their path to him. The filmmaker eventually focuses on the four pilgrims whom she felt most connected to on her own 50 day pilgrimage. The pilgrims’ life struggles seem to be reflected while challenging the hardest legs of their long pilgrimage. They are encouraged by the philosophical words written on the path, and at the temples, they recite the Heart Sutra, which describes the Buddhist idea of “emptiness.” Pilgrims tread in the midst of nature, having minimum items with them for an average of 50 days to face oneself. Returning to the basics of life in this way, I think we realize what is truly important to us in our lives.                            






I discovered the Shikoku Pilgrimage from my grandmother who was a pilgrim and has completed the path three times. My interest in the pilgrimage increased when I reached my 30s and started thinking about the meaning of my life. I finally decided to film the pilgrimage myself just before my 40th birthday, longing to challenge my dream of making my own film after working as a TV director for over a decade because I felt stuck in need of change. As a TV director, filming a documentary usually requires a story line which one must adhere to and strict deadlines. My intention with “Aruku” was to break from the rules and pick up characters through chance encounters, capturing their journey spontaneously as I also walked an average of 12 miles a day for 50 days.  Besides having a production assistant transporting camera equipment and our luggage, I was the sole female artist for the entire documentary meeting pilgrims serendipitously as I walked.

“Aruku” focuses on protagonists facing issues which much of modern society deals with: workplace burnout, employment insecurity, the inability to form lasting relationships, loneliness… In such situations, we eventually ask, "How can we be happy?“ “How should we live?” Buddhism has always been a source of inspiration for attaining happiness. In the United States where I reside, the number of people practicing meditation has been increasing over the past decades to learn concepts like, living in the present, impermanence and selflessness, as well as equanimity of mind.  I believe it is because looking within is a very effective way to overcome various hardships and dissatisfactions you feel. 

In 2020, the pandemic shook the world and presented all of us with unprecedented challenges. It made us see the world differently from before, and rethink how we live. Many of us started walking in nature, or joining the BLM protests and walking for long periods of time. In a sense, it made us all pilgrims as we began to look for meaning. The practice of walking was renewed as a way to make change and overcome hardships. By observing how these pilgrims confront questions fundamental to humanity, I hope the film offers food for thought to anyone thinking about their own direction in life.



Shiho Kataoka - Director/Producer/Editor/DP

Shiho Kataoka was born in a small village near Kyoto, to a family with deep roots in Shikoku. As a child, she was not given  many toys, but instead played with homemade dolls and wrote her own comic books, which her classmates often passed around in elementary school.  In Junior High School, she wrote and performed the main roles in student plays. These childhood experiences inspired her to work in a creative field, and she moved to New York City in 1993, to study filmmaking at the School of Visual Arts. After graduation, Shiho began producing television programs for various Asian television networks such as NHK, FCI and CCTV.  In 2005, she established her own TV/Film Production Company, Some Days Films (former Cucumber Productions,) and began working on her own projects while continuing her work for television. In 2009, Shiho won two Telly awards for her NHK documentaries, “Hospital Radio Station” and “Fun Science After-School.” The prime objective of her work is to share stories that can give people new perspectives, and create conversations between people from different backgrounds around the world.  


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