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Journey into a Lost Japan

This is is a film from around 1980 tracing one western woman’s journey to the sacred mountains in NW Japan. The lady in question is Leslie Downer, who had just published her first book On the Narrow Road to the Deep North, on which this film is based. She would later go on to become quite famous as a novelist whose works were set in medieval Japan.

Leslie begins her journey in Tokyo, but quickly heads north to the coastal town Matsushima, before starting her journey to the sacred mountains in Yamagata. Along the way she meets with friends, joins in their home and work lives, eats their food, and generally includes herself in the life of the people she is visiting.

Eventually she reaches the sacred mountains and begins her ascent, accompanied by a local pilgrim and guide. The climb is anything but easy, crossing dangerous paths, diving into freezing cold waters for undergoing ritual cleansing, before finally entering into the presence of the holy of holies.

The film is at once charming and informative, and the journey must have been a life changer for Leslie herself. We hardly ever see films of this nature being made any more, but it really is wonderful to join in an intimate adventure like this, and experience something of the journey with her.

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