Filmmakers Ben Knight and Travis Rummel spent many many many thousands of dollars on a RED Epic camera and then spent thousands more to get their hides to Hokkaido, Japan, last winter, to play in the snow and put that camera to use shooting the balletic ghosts otherwise known as Japanese powder boarders. Clearly, a good return on investment. The result is this fantastical short film, Unicorn Sushi, seen for the first time here on Adventure Journal.
I caught up with Ben to find out a bit more about his trip to the new motherland of deep light snow, and I stole his iPhone and scraped some of his Instragram images, which you can see in a gallery here.
So…Ben. From white trash to white room?
I grew up in a trailer park in North Carolina. I have a GED. A ski trip to Japan is way out of my league. I’ve been watching ski movie segments from Hokkaido as long as I can remember, and its always left me shaking my head in disbelief. Is this real? Could there actually be such a place? How in God’s name could the snow be so dry that close to the ocean? How does one win this powder lottery?
You fell under the spell of a drug dealer, right?
Being a snowboarder, one ski film in particular really wrecked me emotionally. Signatures by Sweetgrass Productions is a film everyone who loves snow should see, but beware: you will never stop thinking about Japan post viewing. Nick Waggoner of Sweetgrass invited Travis and a few of our friends to join him on a bit of a reunion two years after filming Signatures. We absolutely could not afford to go, but saying no to such a thing could lead to a lifetime of acute regret and serious mental health issues.
And so a rainbow coalition headed west. Or east, as it were?
After six years of saving and paying ourselves a pitiful wage, we had just bought our dream camera, the RED Epic. Japan seemed like the absolute best possible way to test our shiny new pride and joy. The only problem was the fact that we typically make films about fish, fishing, and or fish. Making ski porn gets you off the hook for a meaningful narrative, but it didn’t take long to get our asses humbled. Filming skiing well is incredibly difficult, turns out. It didn’t help that we were filming a single geologist from Boulder, a gay personal chef from Aspen, and ourselves…two guys who make fishing films.
Japanese snowboarders have the keys to the universe…
Sweetgrass has local connections and just generally a ton of respect in the Japanese “snow surfing” community. This led to a few fleeting moments of cinematic bliss when pro Japanese snowboarders crossed paths with our new camera. If you took a shot of a Japanese snowboarder on a swallowtail and somehow layered it over a shot of a wave, I seriously doubt that you could tell the difference in style. Nothing in my 15 years of snowboarding has influenced my riding more than one day spent riding with the snow surfers. They have a way of making your average snowboarder look like they’re commuting to work, late, rushed and generally uninspired by the terrain blowing past them. No matter the snow conditions, a talented Japanese snow surfer will gracefully and powerfully shred every feature they can find as if snowboarding were their art form.
What’s with the name, Ben? And really, it’s a horn, not a corn.
I like titles that are weird. I kept expecting to see a unicorn in the snow-blasted white birch forests. To say these forests we skinned through were magical is an enormous understatement. I would go back just to photograph the trees if I could. One night we had raw horse meat at a traditional restaurant…we joked that it might be unicorn. We joked that we could track the wild Japanese unicorn by following their Skittle-like poop.