Buddhist group objects to risque movie in film festival

The poster of the Japanese film, Suffering Of Ninko, which tells the story of a novice monk trying to stay virtuous despite women and men being attracted to him.
The poster of the Japanese film, Suffering Of Ninko, which tells the story of a novice monk trying to stay virtuous despite women and men being attracted to him.PHOTO: COURTESY OF ASIAN SHADOWS

Not proper for R21 film with sex and nudity to be part of Buddhist event, says federation head

The Singapore Buddhist Federation has voiced concern over the inclusion of a risque film rated R21 in an upcoming independent Buddhist film festival.

The film, which features nudity and sexual scenes, does not "ring true to Buddhist practices", said the federation's president, Venerable Seck Kwang Phing.

Venerable Seck said that from what he has seen of the film's introduction, the movie is inappropriate for screening under the name of Buddhism as it does not introduce Buddhist practices.

The Japanese film Suffering Of Ninko depicts a young monk struggling to stay virtuous despite young men and women being attracted to him.

"Buddhism does not ask you to suppress or indulge in your desire," said Venerable Seck, who noted that others in the federation were concerned about the film, too. "The film looks like it has got nothing to do with Buddhism. There is no Buddhist substance in it," he added.

The festival's organisers, however, have defended the choice, which is the first R21 film to be included in the 10-year-old event.

They did so after Shin Min Daily News reported the controversy on Monday.

The poster of the Japanese film, Suffering Of Ninko, which tells the story of a novice monk trying to stay virtuous despite women and men being attracted to him.
The poster of the Japanese film, Suffering Of Ninko, which tells the story of a novice monk trying to stay virtuous despite women and men being attracted to him. PHOTO: COURTESY OF ASIAN SHADOWS

The chairman of the festival's organising committee, Mr Teo Puay Kim, said the news coverage and attention given to the film's R21 rating has distracted moviegoers from the film's main message. The organisers wanted to use the film as a platform to discuss Buddhist teachings, especially in relation to desire, he said.

"The film uses Ninko as a character to represent someone who struggles between suppression and indulgence of one's desires. In Buddhist teachings, neither is appropriate and the key is to understand desire and its root causes in order not to be controlled by it," he added.

Audiences would be warned of the film's mature content, he said.

The biennial festival, introduced in 2009, features Buddhist-themed films to "encourage the Buddhist spirit of free inquiry", Mr Teo said, adding that films are chosen on their merit, not their ratings.

Some moviegoers welcomed the film's addition to the festival, which will be held from Sept 22 to 29 at Shaw Theatres Lido.

Freelance writer Paige Lim, 24, said she would watch the film which has generated buzz at overseas film festivals for its experimental form and storytelling.

"I appreciate that the festival is being more inclusive and open-minded by considering other factors, like artistic merit, in programming the line-up," Ms Lim said.

UNDERSTANDING DESIRE

The film uses Ninko as a character to represent someone who struggles between suppression and indulgence of one's desires. In Buddhist teachings, neither is appropriate and the key is to understand desire and its root causes in order not to be controlled by it.

MR TEO PUAY KIM, chairman of the festival's organising committee, on why it selected the film.

Computer engineer Lin Rong Xiang, 36, a Buddhist, said the film could help him understand more about how the Japanese practise Buddhism. The film is set in Japan during the Edo period and the lead character is a Japanese monk.

"As long as the Government permits it, I won't say 'no'," he added.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 18, 2018, with the headline 'Buddhist group objects to risque movie in film festival'. Print Edition | Subscribe