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KEEPING A BALANCE will be a feature-length artistic documentary about a signature style of Japanese garden design that spans three generations.


Michele Kong's "KEEPING A BALANCE: The Legacy of Shigemori Mirei" will be a feature-length artistic documentary, which tells the story of a signature style of Japanese garden design that spans three generations.  In the face of cultural values emphasizing new advancements and modernization without safeguarding traditions, KEEPING A BALANCE conveys the Shigemori family's complex story and commitment to preserving the important Japanese art of garden making, a rich body of knowledge threatened to be lost.

Famous scholar and modernist-inspired landscape designer Shigemori Mirei renewed interest in and study of traditional Japanese gardens at a unique cultural moment when there were tense polarities between appreciation for Western culture and Asian tradition.  Best known for the gardens at Tofukuji Hojo in Kyoto, Shigemori Mirei’s work, more than 240 gardens with an emphasis in karesansui is an understudied subject and exemplifies 20th Century Japan in the midst of significant cultural and political changes.  Shigemori Mirei, like his friend and occasional collaborator Isamu Noguchi, attempted to transcend the dichotomy between tradition and modernity, often reinterpreting classic traditional forms and integrating modern materials to create an innovative hybrid.  Considered radical at the time, and as a consequence, scholars of Japanese garden history often overlook the work of Shigemori Mirei.

Following Mirei's grandson Shigemori Chisao working on gardens designed by his father and grandfather, and as he creates his own designs, the project offers insights into the artistic quest, and meanwhile speculates on possibilities for innovation in the field of Japanese garden design today.  Contrary to expectation - that the art of garden design would have passed from father to son to grandson - Chisao explains how each generation, beginning with Mirei, was self-taught.  The stories knit together a kind of odyssey driven by an insatiable artistic passion, ending with a rich knowledge of aesthetics that transcends disciplines.  KEEPING A BALANCE will depict a struggle to uphold cultural roots and embrace contemporary trends, tell a story where striving for innovation means surmounting family precedents, and show the complex perspective, which pioneers face: the challenge to create something new that will expand the field and offer a legacy for future generations. Chisao's struggle is more than an artistic quest, it is a search for identity.

Production began with six weeks of shooting in Tokyo and Kyoto in late fall 2011.  Donations in the amount of $25,000 were successfully raised to support this early phase of production.  Ongoing production requires further support.  Funds will support transcription and translation, additional research assistance, rights to archival footage, editing of a trailer, and other production activities.  As well, your generous donations will support forthcoming travel to Japan, lodging and transportation, interpreter and production assistance, equipment and telecommunications, in addition to other incidentals.  Tax-deductible contributions of all sizes are welcome and appreciated.  Thank YOU!

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