Why Japan and Why Alone?
How could I have been so naive?
I knew exactly how a documentary was supposed to happen– the pitch,
the research, the fixers, pre-interviews and a full script, then a "talent"
and five-man camera crew with two tons of equipment and ten days to rush
from one location to the next, trailing cables and lights and a huge crowd
of curious locals. A couple of hours to get some country’s thousand-year-old
tradition in the can and then off to the next place on the schedule, and
too many beers in the hotel bar at the end of the day.
And I knew just where I wanted to go – Japan. The country had captivated me ever since I first took up judo, over a decade ago. After several years I began to realize that if I was truly going to master the sport, I’d have to understand the culture that it came from. Japan was an enigma wrapped in a mystery, an Escher painting of convoluted contradictions. Few foreigners had managed to get behind the tatamae – the carefully powdered face that Japan presents to the world. Nobody had ever caught it on film. I thought, naively, that if I just learned the language, stayed long enough, and was sincere enough, then I might be the one.
But judo was more than just a personal obsession – it was my secret weapon.
I hoped to use it as a wedge to pry the door open wide enough for me
to slip through and – hopefully – blend in. But I was 34 and
the judo mats weren’t getting any softer. I wasn’t bouncing
nearly as well as I had in my twenties, and the injuries were piling up.
And Japanese tatami, I had heard, was a thin sheet of plastic laid over
cement. It was now or never.
I almost gave up. I did give up. But then, an idea wormed its way into my brain. It was a foolish, unrealistic thought, the ultimate Walter Mitty fantasy. I could do it on my own – research it, live it, shoot it, write it, edit it, narrate it, produce and direct it – from titles to credits.
I thought about it every waking minute – while I was folding laundry or riding my bicycle or scrubbing the kitchen floor. And then, one day I decided to go out and make it come true.