'Kintaro Walks Japan' takes low-tech look at our shrinking world
Important aspects of the "Wild & Scenic Environmental Film Festival" are adventure and extreme sports.
You might think of a film in the festival called "Dog Gone Addiction: Women of the Yukon Quest," which is about a 1,000-mile dogsled race in temperatures way below zero. Or another film in the festival called "Coast to Coast," which is about flying across Africa in ultralights - those hang gliders with engines on them. Or another film called "King Lines," which is about a true spiderman of free climbing.
In "Kintaro Walks Japan," we are still talking about an extreme: Kintaro walks more than 2,000 miles in 145 days from the southernmost point in Japan to its northernmost tip. We are talking about adventure: He treks across a foreign land and seeks the place where his father was born, with only a sketch of a coastline landmark as a clue.
"Kintaro Walks Japan" is both goofy and respectful, cross-cultural and peculiarly all-American. It's even kind of romantic since his girlfriend, half-Japanese, lives in Japan. She, not incidentally, is the daughter of George Meegan, who spent seven years walking from the southern tip of Argentina to the northern tip of Alaska.
Tyler McNiven gets tagged with the name Kintaro, who was a legendary, golden boy spirit in Japan, lovable and known for wrestling and riding bears. McNiven, tall and gangly with orange-red hair, is very noticeable in any group of Japanese people. He becomes something of a celebrity with quite a bit of coverage in Japanese TV and newspapers.
More significantly, he becomes a guest in many Japanese households, the recipient of wonderful hospitality. People readily take to his outgoing style because it is entirely without guile. It also helps immensely with communication and mutual respect that McNiven takes the trouble to learn a fair amount of Japanese.
He wills himself to make progress, step by step, mile after mile, day after day, 2,000 miles, with a heavy backpack. Experiencing Japan at a walker's pace, McNiven traverses coastlines, mountains, the countryside and urban centers.
There are slicker films than "Kintaro Walks Japan," but this is a satisfying way to watch a low-tech extreme adventure and an individualized look at our ever-shrinking world.
----- A conversation with Tyler "Kintaro" McNiven -----
Chuck Jaffee: In the film, "Kintaro Walks Japan," let's face it, you're pretty goofy. Did this help you to engage with people?
Tyler "Kintaro" McNiven: There was so much smiling acceptance. People really let their guards down. The Japanese, at heart, are a very goofy people, perhaps because there are cultural influences to behave otherwise.
CJ: How fluent would you say you became in Japanese?
TM: I had taken one course in Japanese. I carried a dictionary. People were thrilled and forgiving when you tried to speak any amount of Japanese. It got so I could navigate and describe things pretty well. I couldn't have, like, political discussions.
CJ: What was the biggest challenge for you in filming a walking tour for 2,000 miles?
TM: I stayed in about 60 homes. I was so busy receiving their wonderful hospitality and thanking them and not wanting to be intrusive with the camera. I wish I could have done more filming in people's homes.
CJ: Do I understand correctly that you didn't have a camera person with you for this trip?
TM: Mostly I filmed everything myself or set the camera down and filmed that way, and I also asked lots of people to film me. People in Japan are very familiar with using cameras.
CJ: You say in the film how satisfying it was to see Japan at a walker's pace. What was the most satisfying and what was the toughest thing about this extreme walking adventure?
TM: Besides learning language and culture, it's the first time I ever really did regular exercise. Walking six to eight hours per day, I felt very strong and very happy. I felt free, although I did feel a bit locked in to walking the length of Japan. It wasn't walking, like roaming. Walking the length of Japan was way easier than spending seven months editing the film.
CJ: Are you working on another film?
TM: I'm currently editing more of a scripted film about a guy who goes to Mongolia to wrestle a hundred Mongolians. I also started making a film called "I Ran Iran." I'm hoping to run 1,000 miles through Iran. I'm having some trouble getting the permissions I need.