Takumi: A 60,000 Hour Story on The Survival of Human Craft

Premiering at DOC NYC Festival, Clay Jeter’s Takumi: A 60,000 Hour Story on The Survival of Human Craft is a fascinating look into the world of Japanese artistry and craftsmanship. Something I didn’t know upon viewing on the big screen is that it’s rather short (51 min) runtime, and this version of Takumi I saw was but a snippet of an ACTUAL 60,000-hour-long documentary.

Malcolm Gladwell famously theorized in this book The Outliers that it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert in one’s field. Takumi or Japanese master craftsmen take that concept and expand it to 60,000 hours which equates to 240 8-hour days a year, for 30 years. That’s what I call dedication, or devotion rather, to one’s craft. Someone HAS to love what they’re doing to spend almost their entire life doing the same thing over and over, which is much of what craftsmanship requires.

We follow Shigeo Kiuchi, is a master in Miyadaiku, an ancient method of carpentry in Japan that requires a lot of skill and attention. There are several different aspects to creating a Miyadaiku structure, and each craftsman spends their lifetime becoming an expert in only one aspect, meaning several Takumi must gather their talents to build these breathtaking structures that have been all over Japan since before all of us were born.

“…each craftsman spends their lifetime becoming an expert in only one aspect…”

Next, we have Hisato Nakahigashi, who is a chef at a Michelin star restaurant, Miyamasou, which his father founded many years ago. Nakahigashi traveled to France for culinary training and worked for 20,000 hours in restaurants in Europe until his father died, returning to Miyamasou to carry on the tradition of his parents’ inn. Every day he forages for ingredients on the grounds of the inn, which shares space with a 12th-century temple. We see him take ingredients from the Earth around him and craft them into not only delicious looking meals but also breathtaking pieces of art.

Nahoko Nujima is our next Takumi. She is a brilliant artist who has worked in the medium of kirie (Japanese paper cutting) and amazingly enough, has reached her 60,000 hours of craftsmanship already at the age of 37. She started her kirie studies at the age of five and went on to become one of Japan’s most admired artists, winning the Kuwasawa award in 2016.

Our final Takumi is Katsuaki Suganuma, who has worked at the Lexus factory for 32 years. He inspects every car before it is out to sell and has seen the ever-changing face of technology and its’ effects on our world. His presence there reveals the fact that cars still need some human input to be created. I hope people like him continue to work in these positions for years to come.

That is the other side of Takumi: A 60,000 Hour Story on The Survival of Human Craft. What’s going to happen when technology advances to a point where craftsmen are no longer needed. Are we ever going to reach that point? Nora Atkinson (Curator of Craft at The Smithsonian Museum), Martin Ford (NYT bestselling author and self-proclaimed futurist) and John Breuner (Journalist/Computer programmer who runs the Digital Factory program at Formlabs..AI proponent) throw in their differing perspectives.

“…certainly a fascinating look into the life of devoted craftsman, who should be celebrated…”

One thing that’s for sure, with technology progressing at an ever-increasing pace, having a trade or skill that could certainly be replaced by technology is exceptionally frightening, especially in countries like the good ole US of A under its’ current leadership, who has about enough respect for art as it does for the constitution. The 51 mins we get to see of the 60,000 hours touches on all these fears.

My only complaint about Takumi that I’d be remiss in not mentioning is that in some ways, this shortened version does seem a little bit like (sometimes not so) sneaky advertising for Lexus. I understand that they funded the project, and I’m sure the 60,000-hour version is quite different, but there’s something a little cringy about talking for 45 minutes about the importance of ancient techniques and tradition and then just somehow saying “OH YEAH, LEXUS IS A PRODUCT OF THIS ANCIENT JAPANESE ART!” Maybe it is, but it just seems a bit out of place with all the other things Takumi discusses and maybe I’m just too resistant to let go of my inner revolutionary that thinks “The Revolution WIll Not Be Televised” by Gil Scott Heron could be our country’s national anthem, due to our incessant embrace of advertising culture.

If you’re willing to overlook that part of Takumi, which is possible, if not a little difficult to do, then it’s certainly a fascinating look into the life of devoted craftsman, who should be celebrated in a world obsessed with prefabricated newness.

Takumi: A 60,000 Hour Story on The Survival of Human Craft (2018) Directed by Clay Jeter. Written by Dave Bedwood. Starring Shigeo Kiuchi, Hisato Nikahagashi, Nahoko Kojima, Katsuaki Suganuma, Nora Atkinson, Martin Ford, and Jon Bruner.

6.5 out of 10 Stars

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *