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 It’s actually one of the first things I ever posted to this site, but the original upload was taken down, so I unpublished the post.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.