2016 / A film depicting a kaleidoscopic portrait of an unconventional 93-year-old Japanese-American Zen monk, April 27 & April 29

Film Zen and Bones

Film: Zen and Bones  (Henry Mittwer / Zen to hone)

Director Takayuki Nakamura, 2016, 123 min


Los Angeles Asia Pacific Film Festival

Wednesday, April 27, 6:30 pm at Downtown Independent, 251 South Main Street, Los Angeles, CA 90012, General admission $14



University of Southern California / Shinso Ito Center for Japanese Religions and Culture 

Friday, April 29, 7:00 – 9:00 pm at University Park Campus, Leavey Library Auditorium (Room 17) Free. The film screening will be followed by a panel discussion with director Takayuki Nakamura, Henry’s Mittwer’s daughter Gretchen Mittwer, and associate producer Asako Fujioka. https://usccollege.qualtrics.com/SE/?SID=SV_00wMwBVpkZ6Kf1r&Q_JFE=0

The film Zen and Bones is a kaleidoscopic portrait of an unconventional 93-year-old Japanese-American Zen monk, his dramatic history and turbulent family life. Fiction and animation adds to create a motley concoction of fascinating true stories.

93-year-old Zen monk Henry Mittwer is determined to make a movie – about an orphaned child’s longing for her mother. He himself was torn from his Japanese mother when World War II broke out. This film tells the story of an idiosyncratic free spirit with a mother complex, covering his childhood in Yokohama, his wartime in various U.S. Nikkei camps, as a 1960s American dad-turned-Zen monk, and his lifelong passion for movies.

At his seasoned age, Henry should be living his remaining days in peace in his Kyoto temple residence. But his greatest passion and dream is to make a film. For years, he has been pitching his project Red Shoes to Kyoto movie studios and financiers. Apparently, the Buddhist search for nothingness does not interfere with this obsession of his.

Born in 1918 in Yokohama to an American father who ran United Artists’ Far East Office and a former geisha, Henry grew up in Japan. At 22, he travels to America by ship to search for his father.

Soon World War II breaks out and he is detained in concentration camps for enemy Japanese. He marries Sachiko and has three children, of which two were born in the camps. In 1961, he returns to Japan and becomes a Zen Buddhist monk and emissary for the Urasenke Tradition of Tea.

Henry falls ill in 2012 and is admitted to the hospital. The documentary crew continues to film, uncovering evidence and gathering testimonies about his extraordinary past from movie moguls, U.S. government files, and interviews with Zen masters. The truth behind Henry’s obsession for filmmaking slowly takes shape. Meanwhile, actors play out Henry’s life as a young man, and an animated version of Henry’s dream film comes true.