Zen and the art of Japanese Ferries – Where it’s at

When one of my students on the Photojournalism Masters at LCC asked me if he could send me his first multimedia feature I said sure.  A decision I started to regret that when he told me that it was a ten minute feature on ‘Japanese Ferries’. It sounded like an exercise in self-indulgence.

True to my word I sat down to watch the feature on election night, thinking I’d take in the first minute and fire back a polite and encouraging response.  This is what I actually wrote,

‘Quite simply one of the greatest pieces of multimedia I’ve ever seen.    I am utterly in awe of what you’ve done here David.  Will be putting this up on the blog.  Magnum in Motion eat your heart out.’

Ok so I was seriously pissed at the time. I watched it again and had the same response.

David Willems work transcends any experience of photo films I’ve had before. Watching it is a form of meditation.

How do you do that? Take a subject as ugly as a Ferry and turn it into a film that slowly and effortlessly walks the viewer into a space of nothingness, of peace?

You have to go the full distance though and you have to watch the CODA at the end (after the credits) which kicks you out of thoughtfulness and brings a smile to the face.

Someone should put this on as an installation in a gallery in the heart of London. Meditation for the masses.

Japanese Ferries from david willems on Vimeo.

An exploration into ferries to and from Shikoku.

part 1 ferries by day
part 2 ferries by night
part 3 coda with music by eddie wally

Please use headphones to fully enjoy the slow journey.

Author — duckrabbit

duckrabbit is a production company formed by radio producer/journalist Benjamin Chesterton and photographer David White.We specialize in digital storytelling.

Discussion (5 Comments)

  1. Ok…you win. It is fantastic. I was in another world until the gert foghorn kicked in.
    Thanks David.

  2. Smart, funny, surprising (to non-Japanese, like me).

    Love the spareness of the compositions. Audio is subtle. Didn’t notice how wonderful it is until the night sequence. Mix of still and video is just about perfect.

    Stay tuned for the Coda.

    • duckrabbit says:


      you are so right.

      The opening is underwhelming but there is enough to keep you watching, even if you’re thinking ‘Is this it?’. And then you give way to the fact that yeah, this is it and the whole thing starts to wash over you. But what amazes me is how invisible the photographer is. Its like he’s part of the scenery. That’s amazing for someone from another culture, but it just builds on the sense of peace. No-one cares he’s there.

      Take John’s advice, ‘stay tuned foe the coda’.

  3. Valerie says:

    Loved it and recommanded it to one of my Japanese colleagues who loved it too! She actually answered my query which was: “why is it all so peaceful?” as I imgined people used the ferry daily to go about their business. But Yuki told me that actually most Japanese people would only use ferries when on holiday.
    The piece takes you on a crossing, it is peaceful and meditative, well done David Willems! I never thought I would enjoy watching something about ferries so much!

  4. JonathanJK says:

    Bravo! The Coda especially.

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