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What does pilgrimage mean in an age of instant communication and high-speed travel?

‘I have belief in God. But not all of the time,’ Megumi Ueno admits as she ascends steps on the Kumano Kodo, a sacred pilgrimage route in Japan’s Kii Mountains that’s been travelled by Shintos and Buddhists for more than a millennium. While Ueno considers herself a Buddhist, she has a complex relationship with religious devotion, believing that, when adopted absolutely, it can lead to violence and destruction. Still, Ueno feels connected to fellow spiritual pilgrims who have felt called to leave behind the conveniences and comforts of home in search of something more – whatever that might be. The US filmmaker Bajir Cannon’s short documentary I Have a Small Heart follows Ueno as she hikes the Kumano Kodo through wooded mountains, along pebbled beaches and across gentle streams on a contemplative journey of self-discovery. Ultimately, her travels culminate at a rare ceremony of prayer between Buddhist monks and Shinto priests at a Shinto temple, where the two religions would have once prayed alongside one another before being forcibly split by the Japanese government following the Meiji Restoration of 1868.

Director: Bajir Cannon

Producer: Maki Itami

1 July 2019

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