Exploring Horimono: Japan’s Tattoo Pilgrimage at LAAAPFF 2020

2 Oct

By Ed Sum
(The Vintage Tempest)

Available to viewers in Southern California (excluding San Diego County) from October 1, 2020 at 12pm PT to October 31, 2020 at 11:59pm PT. Click here to watch the film on Eventive.

The Japanese word Horimono (彫物) does not necessarily translate to defining the same art form which the English term tattoo expresses. The mini-documentary, Horimono: Japan’s Tattoo Pilgrimage, shows that this country’s older generation sees a difference in how to express themselves through full body art modification. Some conflict exists. The media in Asia stereotyped the image of what it means to have a pattern on their skin–they are historically labelled a criminal. This belief dates back to the 4th Century.

This mini documentary aims to correct all the misconceptions.

The soundtrack is just as entrancing. The English definition includes how the word can signal the beat of a drum at night to tell soldiers it’s time to go to their quarters. We see it played at a temple in Oyama during a ritual of purification. The mountain shrine welcomes not only the artists who still practice the ancient art but also the men, whose body is fully covered in imagery from the Edo period (1603 – 1868). They wear it like a suit–a badge of honour.

These folks strip down to their fundoshi underwear and take part in the local rituals. Some of them we get to witness, and others are not recorded out of respect. This work is a terrific peak at a culture whose misconceptions towards an art form is still stigmatized. It’s hard to determine if attitudes are changing, though.

The old men here perhaps represent the last of the Post-War Cohorts and WWII generation. We don’t know if any baby boomers have taken part because this examination by director/producers David Caprara and Kira Dane don’t poll or find out from other parts of Japan how far the stigma goes. It may well be more of a general perception between different social classes than age groups. The summary we get here delivers the stigma as its created by mass media. It’s not quite fair that the blame it lumped this way, and a further analysis would be great.

Historians know the Ainu draw patterns over their faces and arms. In Okinawa, the natives have their hands and feet decorated. If this work gets expanded to feature length form, I’d love to learn about the differences and conflicts between indigenous rights versus governmental regulations. This documentary is only scratching the surface of how body art is perceived country-wide.

4 Stars out of 5

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