I Walk

: Documentary Feature
GENRE: Documentary
STATUS: Post-Production


"I Walk " documents chance encounters between filmmaker Shiho Kataoka and pilgrims on Japan’s best-trodden Buddhist pilgrimage route, the Shikoku Henro. It is said Kukai, the 8th Century Buddhist monk and originator of the Shikoku pilgrimage, writes a scenario of each pilgrim’s needs, causing extraordinary things to happen. This experimental documentary challenges this idea, through the encounters and progress of several pilgrims. Human dramas emerge against the backdrop of Shikoku’s mountainous coastline.  As they complete the path, what is attained?


The dazzling summer sun casts its rays across the green rice paddies of Northern Tokushima prefecture, the starting point of Shikoku Henro, the route of Japanese Buddhism’s most famous pilgrimage.  Each pilgrim has a different agenda in her mind as she walks this 1200km path.  Some have come to confess their sins, some to pray for the wellbeing of loved ones and others to seek new meaning in their lives.  The Shikoku pilgrimage follows some of the same paths once trodden by the youthful Japanese monk Kukai, who went on to introduce the esoteric Shingon doctrine from China. It is said that during the journey, Kukai walks with each pilgrim and writes up a scenario of their needs, causing extraordinary things to happen.  

At a certain point in everyone’s life, we all question our purpose in the world and ponder the meaning of our existence. But in spite of the universality of these questions, we all arrive at our own different answers. Religious pilgrimages serve as one way to help us tackle these questions. My intention with “I Walk” is to find out “why people walk” and to depict the spontaneity of their journey. With this project, I aim to undertake the pilgrimage myself and entrust my fate to the greatest monk, Kukai and to the universe. By following my fate and observing the journey of these pilgrims, I hope to capture their guided inspiration, detail what they are searching for in life, and share some of the tips they have learned on their journey about finding your own meaning in life.


I got to know Shikoku Henro from my grandmother who lived in Kouchi prefecture on Shikoku.  While visiting her house as a child, I would watch the pilgrims walking along the road and praying at the temples, and wondered why they were fascinated with this place.  My interest in the pilgrimage increased when I reached my early 30s and started wondering about the meaning of my life. I finally decided to try the pilgrimage myself in the summer of 2008. Along the path, I met many interesting people. Many stories were shared during our brief encounters. 

I met a young  Shingon school monk who had done Shikoku Henro once before. In spite of his family’s temple-owning background, he had no interest in becoming a monk when he set out the first time. He decided to do the pilgrimage in his own way, playing guitar when he received Osettai (offerings from locals). Then, a strange thing happened when he met an old married couple at a teahouse. They asked him to play something by a particular Japanese folk singer. The song he chose happened to be the favorite song of the son whom the couple had lost exactly one year before this chance encounter. That made him decide to become a monk so that he could help people with their grief. I remember the words he said. “I used to make a plan for my life, but from that experience, I thought, why not just let life go its own way and see what happens”. This film is about not making a plan. We will meet people on the path who search for the meaning of life. Simply walking along the path will take us on a journey of self-exploration. Let’s just see what happens.

"I Walk" is an experimental documentary in which the director, Shiho Kataoka, follows an ancient pilgrimage route for 50 days, operating the camera, mostly hand held, while meeting other pilgrims serendipitously as she walks.  She is the solo camera/sound person for the entire documentary.  With many years of experience making TV documentaries which tend to require a basic story line while filming, my intention with the proposed documentary film “I Walk” was to avoid planning and follow a more observational and spontaneous approach.  Following the tradition of the Shikoku Pilgrimage, I, as the filmmaker, become one of the pilgrims, modestly observing the journey of the others I meet and capturing their individual discoveries.  There is no narration nor directed interviews in the finished documentary, and the story is told with the conversations between pilgrims and locals, pilgrims and myself and visual montage.  The film depicts journeys of several pilgrims simultaneously and avoids the traditional beginning-middle-end format which viewers are conditioned to expect in a documentary narrative.  The stories of the characters’ and filmmaker’s journey are told in a diary style which is more circular than linear, echoing the movement of the pilgrimage route.


Shiho Kataoka - Director/Producer/Editor/DP

Shiho Kataoka was born in a small village near Kyoto, but her family has its roots in Shikoku. When she was little, she was not given many toys; instead she played with handmade paper dolls and wrote her own cartoon books. 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 NYC in 1993, studied filmmaking at the School of Visual Arts.  After graduation, Shiho began producing television programs for various Japanese and Asian television networks. In 2005, Shiho established her own TV/Film Production Company, Cucumber Productions Inc., and began working on her own projects while continuing her work for television. In 2009, Shiho won two Telly awards for her NHK documentary episodes “Patient Radio” and “Fun Science”.


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