Home > Film, Reviews > Film Review: KanZeOn – A Celebration of Buddhism And Music

Film Review: KanZeOn – A Celebration of Buddhism And Music

Flows like a stream of serenity, gently and naturally going from one sequence to the next!

Zen Buddhism has influenced many Japanese art forms, including the tea ceremony, calligraphy, martial arts and music. It is the latter in which KanZeOn, another word for Kanon the Buddhist goddess of compassion, she who hears the cries of the world, and written as “to see sound”, focuses on.

Sounds of all kinds surround us. Although we hear them, we very rarely really listen to them. In this 86-minute film about Buddhism and its relationship with music, three individual Buddhist, Tatsumi Akinobu, Akihiro Iitomi, and Eri Fuji, demonstrate how they incorporate music into their daily lives and how each note played and heard is unique to that specific moment in time, never to return. To each of the musicians, music is more than just a pleasurable pastime. It’s a spiritual awakening that engulfs their very being. Musical vibrations produced by their chosen instruments pump through their veins and released into the air as floating clouds of melodic song joining the harmony of nature as they become one with the universe.

Hip Hop priest Akihiro Iitomi

All kinds of sounds can be heard within a Buddhist temple, bells and drums are commonly played. An iron bowl is often struck during many meditation practices to prevent sleeping. During the film we learn that throughout the Second World War temple bells were collected by government officials and used as material for military weapons. The one that hangs in Shousanji temple today (featured in this documentary) was temporarily removed. It was soon returned however and allowed to continue to be a fixture within the grounds of the temple because of an inscription that is etched into the metal. It reads: “Be spiritually awakened with the sound of this bell, may never ending war be eradicated.”

But it’s not only instruments that contribute to music, any sound does; leaves swaying in the wind, someone speaking or chanting, for instance – they all hold the same value. Even “ma”, a musical terminology for the space in between sound, is in itself a form of resonance – the sound of silence, if you will.

Tsudumi player Tatsumi Akinobu

Although the film holds a continual contemplative mood throughout, there are some wonderful standout moments, such as the hip hop priest, Akinabu, beatboxing on a wooden bridge high above a peaceful lake, and the majestic Noh performance with Iitomi playing the tsudumi (a small handheld drum) who explains that “the subject matter of Noh theatre is to save suffering gods by means of Buddhism”, and a mesmerising scene with Fuji playing the sho by a group of waterfalls as the sustaining notes emerge with the roaring sound of the falling water. Fuji interprets the sound of the sho as another form of language. It is thought that its shape derived from that of a Phoenix, a mythological creature celebrated in many parts of Asia that symbolises rebirth.

The names of the three individuals are not revealed until the final chapter; almost as though they themselves are not as significant to the subject matter as the actual music they perform, free from ego and its entrapment.

Sho player Eri Fuji

Filmmakers, Neil Cantwell andTim Graham, purposely kept away from making a conventional “TV style” documentary. For example, they decided against having a voice over narration and a script as such, therefore leaving much to chance, which allowed room for more creativity and input from the contributors such as what they specifically wanted to do and which locations were best to shoot at. This would of course make filming unpredictable, but the result speaks for itself.

Visually, the film is compelling with some striking photography such as a close up of a praying mantis, equalled to anything you will see on a nature programme.

The film flows like a stream of serenity, gently and naturally going from one sequence to the next making it an ideal meditation tool. It’s more an experience, a feeling than an intellectual commentary on Buddhism and the technicalities of music. As the viewer, we become appreciative of the film’s concern to take us away from our busy, hectic lives, slowing down the pace for awhile and leaving us feeling relaxed and mellow. KanZeOn is highly recommended and deserves repeated viewing!

Review written by Spencer Lloyd Peet (Administrator)

KanZeOn - A mysterious and compelling meditation on sound, song, story and ritual.

KanZeOn was shown as part of the The International Buddhist Film Festival held in association with Sundance Film Festival on 11 – 15 April at the Apollo Piccadilly Circus, London. 

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  1. May 1, 2012 at 8:48 pm

    This sounds like such an interesting film! Wish I had been able to make it to the festival.


  2. May 1, 2012 at 9:30 pm

    Haikugirl :

    This sounds like such an interesting film! Wish I had been able to make it to the festival.

    Yeah, it’s not always possible to attend these festivals. I did really enjoy this documentary. Makes me wonder though how other people may perceive a film of this kind with its slow, relaxing pace – a complete contrast to the fast-paced, quick editing films we’re so used to being fed.


  3. iloobia
    August 13, 2012 at 8:04 pm

    should anyone be interested the DVD of KanZeOn is now available and details can be found here: http://www.kanzeonthemovie.com/dvd/


  4. Cherly Espiritu
    January 10, 2013 at 6:12 am

    i always believe that buddhism is sort of the religion of peace compared to other religions. buddhism speaks of peace all the time.”

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  1. May 15, 2012 at 4:22 pm
  2. March 22, 2015 at 2:44 pm
  3. October 8, 2018 at 10:54 am

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