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Das Zen Tagebuch (The Zen Diary, Tsuchi o kurau jûnika getsu)
Japan 2022

Opening 31 Aug 2023

Directed by: Yûji Nakae
Writing credits: Mizukami Tsutomu, Yûji Nakae
Principal actors: Fumi Dan, Takako Matsu, Kenji Sawada, Naraoka Tomoko, Toshinori Omi

Living snuggled in the mountain village of Suge, the quiet Tsutomu (Kenji Sawada) is content with solitude, diligently working on his manuscript and tending to his body and soul in rhythm with nature’s seasons. In February, with equal ease, he wades through knee-high snow to homegrown food sources and/or writes at night guided by candlelight with dog Sansho for company. Once a Zen-novice at a cloister in Kyoto, Tsutomu flings himself with gusto into each season’s fares and its preparation requirements according to Master Dogan. His regime is rarely broken, with the exception of his editor’s visits. Machiko (Takako Matsu) relishes his delectable culinary delights often purring “I’m in heaven,” as much as he enjoys cooking and eating together. In May, man and dog visit his cantankerous mother-in-law Chie (Naraoka Tomoko); Tsutomu silently bears her rebukes for still, after 13 years, not burying daughter Yaeko’s ashes.

In late summer, Tsutomu’s brother-in-law and wife (Toshinori Omi, Naomi Nishida respectively) ask for his assistance, and then a favor. Tsutomu stoically absorbs the task, asking the carpenter (Shohei Hino) and photographer (Koihachi Takigawa) for (speedy) help; Machiko is at his side. When things settle down, not everything falls into place. His new project has repercussions that disrupts the harmony, the delicate balance. Every season offers new respites, and it is while clearing autumnal shedding he discovers the ingredient of hope.

Director-writer Yuji Nakae concocts the visually mouthwatering and tantalizing Das Zen Tagebuch from ingredients pulled from Mizukami Tsutomu’s 1948 autobiographical novel, Furaipan no uta (Song of the frying pan, Tschui wo Kurau Hibi - 12 Monate von der Erde essen.)

Hirotaka Matsune’s sensuous cinematography is awe-inspiring—extreme closeups of hands kneading, chopping, picking, and tugging juxtaposed against winter thaw, tree buds bursting into life, frogs croaking, snow falling. Matsune visually captures the pristine beauty of the silent star here, Mother Nature, that Takehiko Watanabe’s sound compliments. Yoshihide Otomo’s jazzy music carries one period into the next that editor Ryuji Miyajima artfully mixes together. One could say, the Zen diary offers a recipe for life. (Marinell Haegelin)

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