• Scholar/Art Historian

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    Mark Schumacher

    Art Historian

    "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."


    To Read the Full Review:


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     Or Porath

    Assistant Professor of Japanese Religion,

    Tel Aviv University

    "Yujiro Seki's in-depth exploration of the realm of Busshi (Buddhist sculptors) offers a nuanced portrayal of the craft, its lineal structure, and the social dynamics inherent in this profession, so essential for a comprehensive understanding of the role of Buddhist icons in Japan. The film not only celebrates the masterful skills and arduous work of the woodcarvers but also unveils a world that has seldom been scrutinized with such meticulous detail by students of Buddhism or Art History."


  • Publisher

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    Andrea Miller

    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, busshi 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?"

  • Philosopher

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    Peter Bolland

    Philosophy and Humanities Department Chair

    Southwestern College

    “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."

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    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!"

  • Buddhist Minister/Scholar

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    Meido Moore

    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."

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    Shokai Koshikidake

    Head Priest of Koryu Shugen Honshu



    “‘Our reverence increases the power of Deities, and their virtue brings us luck.’ This was written in the Samurai code in 1232. It shows how Samurai thought worship of Deities was important for soldiers in war. When Samurai soldiers went into battle, they carried Butsuzo, small statues of Deities, to protect themselves against enemies with the power of their worship. I once ordered a Butsuzo from a sculptor, who was a distant relative of mine. He said, ‘If you pray with your whole heart, the Deity will appear in your mind. Why can’t you do that?’ And he refused my order. It took me a few years to convince him to accept it. I think he finally saw the determination of my faith. I’ve been thinking about the meaning of Butsuzo. ‘Carving the Divine’ showed me the answer. Samurai had Butsuzo to enrich their soul and encourage the noble act of offering their lives in battle. My relative, the sculptor, tried to understand my determination as a monk. There is no need to explain with words. Just watch it. You will realize that Butsuzo is not just an art object but a proof of faith.”

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    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."

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    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."

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    Stephen Zenki Salad

    Administrator of ‘American Zen’ FaceBook Page

    "What an incredibly beautiful work...I loved Carving the Divine! It's not hard to see why it's award-winning. The subject matter itself is so wonderfully and lovingly presented, and I was fascinated by the process the artists go through to produce objects of such great beauty and deep meaning. For me, that was the star of the show, the actual carving of the objects. I also loved the other aspect of the movie, which is so inherently Japanese and that is the relationship between Master and trainee/apprentice; that too I found fascinating. The hard work and complete dedication to the art and craft is just so admirable, and inspiring!"

  • Artist

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    Roger Wing


    “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. ”

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    Hugh Wedderburn

    Honorary Secretary Master Carvers’Association, London

    “Myself, a practicing woodcarver in the English tradition, I find Carving the Divine a fascinating insight into carving from the other side of the globe, revealing cultural nuances founded in a shared occupation. Fundamentally, making and leaving our mark is intrinsic to humanity. Since we first left hand prints on cave walls, chipped cup and rings into rock, shaped wood and bone into representational form, carving has been fundamental to human expression. Through Master Carver Seki Kuon, Yūjirō has made an absorbing documentary that lingers in the mind stimulating philosophical rumination on the sophistication of culture, heritage and legacy. Thank you Yūjirō and thank you Master Carver Seki Kuon."

  • Professor

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    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.”

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    Fran Stiene

    Reiki Master

    "Carving the Divine is a wonderful journey into the heart of the ancient tradition of Japanese woodcarvers.
    It shows you the many different layers of how to become a woodcarver and what it means to be a real master.
    We often forget how to really embody and what it means to be a master of any kind of art, but by watching this amazing documentary we get rare glimpses of what it means to be training in any kind of art. It shows the integrid relationship between teacher and student from a traditional Japanese perspective. I highly recommend this wonderful sensitive documentary."

  • Film Critique

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    Mickey La Rosa

    Film Curator and Writer at Raindance Film Festival

    "In his documentary, Carving the Divine, filmmaker Yujiro Seki beautifully explores the profoundly philosophical and religious themes behind the ancient art of Japanese Buddhist woodcarving. Once he introduced the masters at work with their disciples, I felt myself intimately involved in their quest for perfection. Seki follows the apprentices’ progress meticulously, including the harsh treatment they get from their master, which is then juxtaposed by his return to his own former master. One may doubt the grand master’s teaching that the bond between masters and apprentices is stronger and longer lasting than that between spouses and parents/children, but Seki skillfully shows us just how true that can be. Bravo!"

  • Spanish Review

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    César Ramírez Leguizamón

    Docente Escuela de Teología, Filosofía y Humanidades

    Universidad Pontificia Bolivariana, Medellín, Colombia

    "Carving the Divine, honor, misticismo y tradición, todo en una misma obra... Para un occidental, ver un producto audiovisual como el documental de Yujiro Seki es poder hacer un viaje hasta Japón y sus tradiciones. Desde que empecé a ver Craving the Divine, me sentí maravillado por la forma en que el autor aborda algo tan maravilloso y místico para el budismo, como es la talla de sus imágenes religiosas. Es un documental que explora el quehacer tradicional de los artistas religiosos budistas, la manera en que son educados y toda la mística y el fervor que profesan tanto sus alumnos, como los maestros talladores. Es una obra de arte en todo el sentido de la palabra, pues presenta el proceso de los talladores, cómo hacen sus trabajos y toda la devoción y mística que encierra el proceso, todo esto capturado desde el lente de su director, para hacer de esta obra un filme digno de los reconocimientos que se ha ganado y espero que, a futuro, recoja muchos más."

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    ENen Lilian Gomez Daishi

    Practicante Budista Zen Rinzai


    "Pasamos gran parte de nuestra vida creando una imagen propia. Y en un momento pareciera que esa persona que hemos creado, es lo único qué hay, lo único que somos. Nos sentimos pequeños, estrechos. Y aparece la necesidad de romper el molde, de buscar ser libres. Sospechamos que somos mucho más. Por dónde empezar? Tallando lo divino (Carving the Divine) nos presenta uno de tantos caminos que han probado ser verdaderos por miles de años. La tradición Busshi, tiene en el centro al corazón humano. A ese corazón infinitamente compasivo y sabio, apunta a nuestra naturaleza de Buda manifiesta. La posibilidad de regresar a ese corazón y encontrar que nuestro rostro, es todos los rostros. Acerca esa posibilidad divina a nuestro pequeño ser que busca expandirse. Mi más grande admiración y gratitud a todas las familias de talladores de estatuas budistas, que a través de los siglos, siguen puliendo sus corazones y sus mentes, para que el tallado manifieste verdad sagrada. Que se honre a los grandes del pasado con la dedicación, disciplina y entrega que se necesitan para crear la maravilla. Por supuesto mi absoluta admiración al director Yujiro Seki por su gran visión y excelente presentación de este maravilloso mundo. La película documental sigue siendo una forma muy hermosa de mantener la memoria viva de las grandes luchas que valen la pena en esta vida, de ampliar perspectivas y lograr conectar con las posibilidades infinitas. Que nos inspire a continuar luchando por nuestros más grandes anhelos, a seguir haciendo esfuerzos constantes por cultivar la

    Virtud y ofrecer una barca altruista en donde quepan todos los seres."

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    Myoren Montañez

    Sacerdote Budista Tendai


    "El Budismo es la Religión del Despertar. ¿Despertar a qué? Despertar a nuestra Unidad Fundamental, y actuar en base a ella en el mundo. Pero muchas veces se nos hace difícil verla. Esto conlleva un llamado y una respuesta. "Carving the Divine" muestra este proceso en la vida de los talladores budistas japoneses, los Busshi. Estas personas, muchas veces sin saberlo, hechan a un lado sus vidas y sus aspiraciones y responden al llamado del Buda para que hagan su accion salvífica invisible y le den forma visible y la manifiesten por medio de sus esculturas en madera en el mundo. Estos talladores son los canales a través y por los cuales millones de devotos pueden dirigirse a lo Inefable y hacerlo algo expresable y alcanzable. Por esto, mas que artesanos, cumplen una sagrada misión de llamar a los seres sintientes y permiten que los devotos respondan; son los canales de la Iluminación, y por medio de sus creaciones, permiten que esa Luz penetre y brille sobre la oscuridad de este mundo. Yujiro Seki hace un excelente trabajo magistral en mostrarnos un vislumbre de tres generaciones que realizan este indispensable trabajo y la comparte con el mundo."

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    “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.”

    Deland Nuse

    UCLA Professor, Cinematographer and Director


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    “"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!.”

    Stuart Balcomb

    TheScreamOnline.com Publisher


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    “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."

    Sohrab Pirayesh

    Director, The Jerusalem Syndrome


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    “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!"

    kathryn sullivan

    Writer and Editor

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    "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."

    Shirah Dedman

    Filmmaker, Journalist, Activist and Attorney

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