This is Basho by Babak Gray, starring Yoshi Oida and Dai Tabuchi, with haiga-style illustrations by Graham High (who also, believe it or not, built the animatronics for Aliens). It’s actually one of the first things I ever posted to this site, but the original upload was taken down, so I unpublished the post. Let’s hope the film stays online this time.
The English translation of the travelogue and haiku included in the film is mostly from Sam Hamill. Here’s the description at Vimeo (minus the credits):
The legacy of Matsuo Basho (1644-1694), famous Japanese poet, is his elevation of haiku to the realm of high poetry. This film, an adaptation of Basho’s ‘Travelogue of Weather-Beaten Bones’, reveals a glimpse into an account of one of Basho’s journeys in the company of confidante and disciple, Chiri.
An interview with director, Babak Gray is available here.
My favorite quote from that interview:
It’s the lightness and ease with which [Basho] treated a subject which we would imagine could only be treated by recourse to tragedy, or something altogether darker and heavier than the language of haiku. That’s what I find so striking—and ultimately so brave. It produces an effect which is at once beautiful, noble and serene. At times more than that, the effect seems deliberately, teasingly ironic, or provocative at least, something like a koan.
That’s the effect I wanted to reproduce in this film.
But do read the whole interview. Fascinating stuff.
Nozarashi Kikô, also translated as Record of a Weather-Exposed Skeleton, was published in 1684, the first of four haibun travelogues Basho wrote (the most famous being Oku no Hosomichi — The Narrow Road to the Far North). As the Wikipedia puts it,
Traveling in medieval Japan was immensely dangerous, and at first Bashô expected to simply die in the middle of nowhere or be killed by bandits. As the trip progressed, his mood improved and he became comfortable on the road. He met many friends and grew to enjoy the changing scenery and the seasons. His poems took on a less introspective and more striking tone as he observed the world around him. […] The trip took him from Edo to Mount Fuji, Ueno, and Kyoto.
Amusing little animation by Paul Watts, who seems to have remembered what so many Western haiku-appreciators do not: that irreverence is central to the form (it was a reaction against more serious renga poetry).
A thoroughly wonderful project from Media Mike Hazard at The Center for International Education:
A swarm of 25 first through eighth graders at Capitol Hill School in Saint Paul, Minnesota, was busy as bees off and on for a whole school year, creating Tamamushi-Iro. It is a great little video of haiku about bugs written by the Japanese poet Issa (1763-1827). We might look at it in many different ways.
While developing the project with the art teacher Julie Woodman, I learned from Ross Corson, then an aide to Ambassador Mondale in Japan, that there is a saying, “tama-mushi-iro,” literally meaning “round-bug-color.” It is used in diplomatic circles to describe something which looks beautiful to everyone, yet different from all angles. Our dream became to create a video of some of Issa’s insect haiku which might be seen as tamamushi-iro.
Like a Rashomon, the video has been seen as a program about Issa, about bugs, about poetry, about Japan, about kids’ views of the world, about art and artist residencies, about television, about international education, about experiential learning, about crossgenerational, crosscultural and crossdisciplinary education, about a person who lived 200 years ago, about inquiry science, about old poetry and new technology…It has been seen in many colorful ways.
First, it’s about great poems. This is why I love poetry. My nine year old daughter, who was on the Issa team, saw a spring fly, and flew to get a flyswatter. She raised her arm, and in mid-air stopped, and thought “Issa,” and let the fly fly. Now if we raise a society to respect even the tiniest creatures of the earth, maybe when some dumb finger is about to push a button and blow us all to kingdom come, some small poem will save us from our worst selves. If we can create a society which stops and thinks, stop and think: we just might….
Ambassador Mondale helped us connect with Sakurababa Junior High School in Nagasaki. Our sister city relationship between Saint Paul and Nagasaki was set up to heal the war wounds of World War Two. On a profound level, this was all about international education, across time and space.
I look into a dragonfly’s eye
the mountains over my shoulder.
tsuki ni utsuru
Be sure to read the whole article, and if you’re an educator, consider ordering a copy of the video.
I like poems and poem-like things that can be enjoyed without any knowledge of the language. Hanafubuki says,
It’s me reading a Japanese tongue twister. the word “hato” means pigeon in Japanese.
A video by Portuguese artist Bruno Gaspar illustrating a tanka by Ono no Komachi. Here’s an English version:
It’s too cold to sleep
in this lodging on the way
Oh monk, if it’s all the same to you,
could I borrow your robes?
And here’s a short film by Bryan Lacey. The interplay between the classical Japanese poem and modern folk/country song certainly creates an interesting mood, and one worlds away from the original court milieu.
Multiple English versions of the tanka in this video — Ono no Komachi’s most famous poem — are collected here.