“I was burnt out and needed time alone, so I headed to Kyoto for some serenity”: Views from filmmaker Chandler Levack’s Japanese retreat
Featuring a film festival screening, a traditional nude spa and a musical bamboo grove
Who: Chandler Levack, filmmaker
When: November 2022
This past November, my first feature film, I Like Movies, was appearing at the Golden Horse Film Festival, in Taipei. I’d never been to Asia before, and my brother had always wanted to see Tokyo, so we decided to go together and hit Japan after Taiwan. But I also needed some alone time—I had been working on this film since 2018, and I was burnt out. Plus, Tokyo can be overstimulating. So, on my third day in Japan, I set out on my own, taking a Shinkansen bullet train for three and a half hours to Kyoto in search of some serenity.
On my first evening there, I visited the Fushimi Inari Shrine. They warn you not to go at night because wild boars can attack, but that’s when the temple is least crowded, so I took my chances. It was a cool, mystical, slightly terrifying experience—a five-hour walk up and down a haunted Shinto shrine late at night. There were long stretches where I couldn’t see anyone, just lit torches. And, thankfully, no wild animals.
I got back to my room at midnight, exhausted. I was staying at a traditional Japanese inn called a ryokan, and I had the best sleep of my life on a straw tatami mat. I woke up at 8 a.m. to a breakfast prepared by the innkeeper. There was a bento box with miso soup, cured mackerel, a Japanese omelette and gomae, a blanched spinach salad, all beautifully arranged.
After breakfast, I took a 45-minute train ride into the mountains to Arashiyama, where there’s a famous bamboo grove. At one passageway, the bamboo plants grow into one another and rustle against the wind. It sounded like a thousand flutes playing at the same time.
While there, I also visited an onsen—a traditional Japanese spa. You have to go naked, so I took off all my clothes and went into these beautiful pools with a bunch of women. That was a first for me, but it felt liberating. There was a collagen pool, a sauna and an outdoor hot spring overlooking the mountains. I remember sitting outside naked in a little deck chair, looking at the mountains, with this very soothing music in the background. I was happy and relieved just to relax alone.