Carving the Divine: A Focus on Butsuzo

How can one generate ideas that are both unique and impactful to others?

Yujiro Seki's first full-length documentary delves into the realm of Butsuzo, the intricate art of sculpting wooden Buddha statues. This captivating subject holds deep significance for Yujiro, as his father is an esteemed craftsman in the realm of Buddhist furniture-making.

Deep understanding of Butsuzo

Nick: Your movie focuses on this tradition. It's a fascinating documentary, I thoroughly enjoyed it. I've watched it about four times, maybe five. So I highly recommend, if you have any interest in Japan, and craftsmanship, or art, or Japanese culture, I recommend you watch it.

And so the documentary is about Butsuzo, the carving of wooden Buddha sculptures, and it explores many themes. But can we first talk about your connection to Buddhism and why you decided to have Butsuzo as the main focus of your first feature length documentary?

Yujiro: Well, first of all, I never thought it will take this long to make it and produce it, and promote it and everything. But yes, the reason why I started working on this subject, you know, if you want to talk about that, we have to talk about my childhood, but I'll make it as short as possible.

So, yes, my father is a Buddhist altar maker, Butsuzo maker. And ever since I was a little, I was surrounded by Buddhist objects: tablet, ihai, butsudan, and statues, Butsuzo, and I never thought anything of it, because it was just a family business.

My father took me to different places, such as temples, because he had many connections with priests and nuns. And I didn't think anything of it either. It was just something that was a part of my life — no more, no more.

And as I told you that I discovered my passion for filmmaking when I was in high school, and I went to the United States, and I saw people from different cultures, and I interact with them, I discover so many new things.

Like, I had an opportunity to go to Israel, and participated in my friend's wedding. He married an Israeli woman, and it was such a fascinating experience, everything was so new. And I started working in Los Angeles, after graduating from University of California, Berkeley.

At first it was exciting, it was my new job and everything I got to work with film, a video, but it was not something that I dreamed of. It was just recording videos for businesses mainly. You know, it paid a bill and it was okay, I learned a lot. But deep inside my passion was to make a film that inspires people.

So after a while, when I got a green card, permanent residency, I decided to work on my own project. I decided to leave my job. Because if I hadn't done that, I would have a regret for the rest of my life. I would have probably never left a job like that.

And I was thinking, what can I make that is very unique, that is worth something, that means something to myself, to my people and to the world? And I happen to have access to Busshi people, Buddhist sculptors, and it is a 1400 year old tradition.

And I was thinking like, this subject must be something that I could only make. It felt like anybody can go out there and make this film, they could, but not to the level that I could. Because I had such a deep connection with many of the people there. So, that's why I decided to work on this documentary. But I told you, I never imagined it would take this long time.