BuddhaFest Presents Zen For Nothing

Directed by Werner Penzel (Step Across the Border, Middle of the Moment)

Germany, Japan / 2016 / English, Japanese, and German, with English subtitles / 100 min plus Q&A / Drama

The title may be provocative, but this film is a masterly immersion into life at a Japanese Zen monastery over three seasons of a year. Swiss novice Sabine arrives at Antaiji (the abbot of which is German national Muho Nölke) in autumn, and after a brief welcome, the learning process of the monastery rules begins: how to bow; how to sit in the meditation hall on the pillow in front of the empty wall; how to carry out the individual movements with the chopsticks in connection with the three black painted wooden bowls; how to behave…

There’s more to life in the monastery than meditation and maintenance; there are picnics and music, and Wi-Fi. After the last snow has melted away, the new rice is planted, bamboo shoots are dug up in the forest and young shoots are cut. In May, the nuns and monks travel to Osaka where they recite sutras in front of subway entrances as they solicit offerings in their monk’s robes. Quotes from renowned early 20th century Antaiji abbot Koda Sawaki are interjected throughout.

Simple, and beautifully filmed, this is Into Great Silence meets Enlightenment Guaranteed, with Fred Frith, composer (Rivers and Tides, Before Sunrise), performing the eclectic and elegant score.

Director Werner Penzel will be in attendance for Q&A.