"Carving the Divine explores the modern remnants of Japan’s ancient carving traditions – largely hidden from public gaze. It captures the hardships and aspirations of the current generation of apprentice-artisans training under the harsh-yet-kind tutelage of a master carver. Heart-warming and intimate, "Carving the Divine" unveils the secret world of master-disciple relationships among sculptors of religious icons. It also shines a spotlight on the time-honored traditions of passing down ancient techniques to a new generation. This film is a godsend for anyone who has worked with a mallet and chisel, but everyone who sees it will be touched by its beauty, benevolence, and blessings of compassion."
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Deputy Editor of Lion’s Roar
"Carving the Divine is a masterful work of cinematography and storytelling, which shines a light on the surprising world of Busshi, Japanese Buddhist woodcarvers.
At the heart of the documentary is a multifaceted portrayal of Master Koun Seki. As he warns one of his soon-to-be disciples, bushi may create meditative works of art but they are not in a state of tranquility as they sculpt. Theirs is a brutally exacting craft and tough business, more pain than joy. Then the film unfolds and we, the viewers, get to see for ourselves how daunting being a busshi really is. And yet we also see something else. There is, in the end—and despite its roughness—a true spiritual profundity to the ancient Busshi path.
Carving the Divine stays with viewers long after the credits have rolled. Ultimately, this film leads us to look more deeply at our own creative endeavors and, indeed, at the whole of our lives. What is our passion, our motivation, and what are we willing to endure in order to succeed?"
Philosophy and Humanities Department Chair
“Carving the Divine” is a monumental work of life-affirming beauty and power. If, as author James Baldwin wrote, “All art is a kind of confession,” then in the end film-maker Yujiro Seki’s deeply insightful portrait of three generations of busshi is a kind of self-portrait – the struggle of any artist to wrest meaningful work from the field of infinite potential. In an even broader sense, all of us are artists, and our masterpieces are our lives. Like the busshi, through skill and a little luck we work to carve away anything about ourselves that is not inherently essential until our inner beauty is finally revealed. That Seki is able to work on so many levels at once is exhilarating. Watch this film to learn about the ancient art of Japanese Buddhist wood carving. Watch this film to be inspired by the nobility and courage of the creative life. But mainly watch “Carving the Divine” to plumb the depths of this mystery known as being human."
An-Shu Stephen K. Hayes
Teacher, Author, Speaker
"Can a traditional Japanese sacred art form based on generations of selfless apprentices studying with stern masters survive into the 21st Century? Has Japan retained enough reverence for the demanding learning process that takes years of thankless dedication to just begin to develop mastery? I sat breathlessly through “Carving the Divine”, silently cheering on those few committed artists as they approached gaining the exquisite skill of depicting through carved wood the most sublime of Buddhist sacred images. Will they make it? Can they accept the firm and relentless coaching from their masters? Filmmaker Yujiro Seki pulls aside the curtain and shows us nakedly the disciplined world of the busshi, master carvers of Buddhist wonder. An amazingly touching film!"
Rinzai Zen priest Abbot,
Korinji Rinzai Zen Monastery
"Great Buddhist sculpture reveals not only a hard-won technical mastery and aesthetic refinement: it possesses an energetic, luminous quality that has the ability to transform our conditions, and even to give the viewer an experiential taste of the qualities represented by each figure. This wonderful film "Carving the Divine" shows us that the path to mastery of this ancient art is as much a spiritual discipline as it is the learning of a skill. The profound yet stern compassion of the teacher, and the sincerity of the apprentices as they seek to uncover the images within the wood, are wonderfully shown. Watching this film, one may grasp how the art of the Busshi is not simply to produce sculpture: it is itself a Way of life and wisdom, in which the images mirror the artists' own hearts."
Rev. Marvin Harada
Center for Buddhist Education
Buddhist Churches of America
"Carving the Divine is more than a movie about amazing wood sculptors of Japan. To me, the movie is about the Master-Apprentice, or the Master-Disciple relationship, and how this is still being transmitted in the traditional manner.....stern, but yet ultimately kind, in training the apprentice to be a true artist in both skill and spirit."
Jeanette Myozen Delport
Soto Zen Priest
affiliated with Kinsen-ji in Nagoya
"Carving The Divine" is a truly beautifully crafted film, which I am certain will become a classic. It not only introduces the exquisite art of butsuzo; it presents an intimate portrait of the artists and their discipline. We are also so marvelously provided with an insight into the precious traditional master and disciple-apprentice relationship preserved through the centuries. Watching "Carving The Divine" felt like a visit with my temple friends in Japan."
“Carving the Divine beautifully illustrates the dedication and patience required to create images in wood. The Buddhist wood carvings of Japan represent a pinnacle of human artistic and cultural achievement. The scenes of tools and techniques being used by students and their masters are an absolute treasure to behold and shines a bright light on the hidden tradition that has passed from master to disciple for more than a thousand years. ”
Karma Lekshe Tsomo
Professor of Buddhist Studies,
University of San Diego
“Seki’s film is a precious window into the world of Japanese Buddhist woodcarving. With honesty and clarity, it illuminates the rigors of mastering the traditional arts.”
“In our world where we celebrate the instant and the effortless, Yujiro Seki’s documentary film, Carving the Divine, serves as a profound reminder of the importance of the virtues of dedication, skill, and patience that artists must exercise in creating works of great value.”
UCLA Professor, Cinematographer and Director
“"Carving the Divine" takes us deep into the soul of what it means to be a true master—to be so skilled and in command of one's craft that mistakes are impossible and perfection is not only the end result, but a state of being. Highly recommend!.”
“An engrossing documentary capturing in vivid detail what it means to dedicate yourself completely to a craft and the long road to mastery. Hypnotic, deeply felt and spiritually resonant, Carving the Divine is a must see."
Director, The Jerusalem Syndrome
“An intimate glimpse into a world that we in the West not only have never been exposed to but on a broader scale, one we have forgotten - a world of patience and commitment, spirituality and tough love - that carving by carving reveals the depths of human capacity to create awe-inspiring art. An exceptional film!"
Writer and Editor
"Carving the Divine is an insightful look into Japan's most undervalued art form. It also shows a side of Japanese culture rarely portrayed in Western media: multi-dimensional, humorous and loving."
Filmmaker, Journalist, Activist and Attorney
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