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A Decade of Danchi

Neil Hartmann looks back at more than a decade of Car Danchi adventures and his latest film, “Car Danchi #10: Arigato.”

Car Danchi #1: The Hokkaido Story

The year was 2004 when I picked up a video camera and set out to document the unique lifestyle of the snowboarders around me here in Hokkaido, Japan. Traveling across the island for weeks at a time, living out of our cars, cooking in the back seat and doing our best to stay warm in the deep cold winters. We broke out of the ski area boundaries and discovered an endless world of powder, backcountry and good times with friends. I named the movie “The Hokkaido Story” and the wheels were in motion—the Car Danchi crew and movie series were born.

Car Danchi #2: The Day

The second movie in the series was a long one—two separate DVDs—one about our season in Hokkaido and the other about a month-long trip through Honshu. We took our skill of living the mobile lifestyle to the main island and found success exploring new resorts and sidecountry hot spots. The crew solidified and so did the word “Car Danchi.” People started calling us the Danchi Crew and we made new friends wherever we went. It also happened to be a big snow year in Hokkaido and this movie captures places like Niseko before the tourist crowds arrived.

Car Danchi #3: A Powder Celebration

The global snow scene was in the process of making a big shift from snow parks and freestyle to freeriding and backcountry that continues even today. We were riding the front of that wave and I dedicated the movie to the movement with the title “A Powder Celebration.” We focused on better filming techniques, more exploration of Hokkaido’s backcountry and a higher quality of riding. We were progressing as a film crew and fine tuning our skills! I had originally planned to end the series at number three, but decided to keep on going as the popularity of our fun, free-ride, backcountry movie had been established.

Car Danchi #4: Rent

The global economy took a turn for the worse and times were starting to get really tough. A recession became a spring board for the progression of our Car Danchi lifestyle. Gas prices were high, but we found ways to save and continue doing what we love. This era also became the beginning of a more spiritual vibe amongst the crew with several members becoming full-blown yogis. This led to a more soulful style of riding with long-flowing lines becoming the norm. We all started to realize that our bodies needed love and care if we were to continue our lifelong mission of riding. As always the powder was deep and plentiful!

Car Danchi #5: Dream Cars

The massive earthquake off the coast of Tohoku created a disaster of massive proportions on March 11. Japan was knocked off its rails and struggled to recover. We had a great season filming, but I debated whether it was right to release a new movie at such a time. In the end I decided to release the movie in hopes that it raises the spirits of the many people affected by the tragedy. I also slipped in an anti-nuclear power message on the cover for good measure. I decided it was time for a more story-based feel for this film. We followed the riders as they wove in and out of “reality” and a dream state filled with powder, blue skies and big lines. Although things would never be the same again, there was a feeling of unification amongst the snow community. Ride on!

Car Danchi #6: D.I.Y.

The do-it-yourself era of filmmaking was upon us in full force now! I acquired wearable action cameras and sent them out to the crew. DIY style, we captured snowboarding and skiing from a new and fresh angle. The editing process was time consuming, but it became a fresh way to observe the Car Danchi lifestyle up close and personal. There was a new feeling of intimacy in the movie that can only be captured when everyone works together towards a common goal.

Car Danchi #7: 7th Gear

The movie series has now reached the point of no return! We had a new goal of reaching ten editions and it felt like we were in high gear, cruising speed—7th gear. By this point, the Danchi lifestyle had now become quite commonplace in Japan. Parking lots that used to be empty were full of vans and cars with people camping out waiting for the next big storm. We saw ourselves become leaders of a new culture as what was once considered “crazy” became the norm. The cinematic quality of the movie series changed as well with high-vision 16:9 camera work and better editing technique.

Car Danchi #8: Forever Ride

New younger faces appeared in this film alongside original cast members: the Danchi family is certainly growing! The freeriding and backcountry moment became center stage and snow tourism reached dizzying proportions in Japan. However, the goal of blazing new lines and creating an original culture and style remained unchanged for the Car Danchi crew. Although snowboarding is a young sport for young people, I put out a strong message that we can all ride forever or forever ride.

Car Danchi #9: “Drives”

A play on the words “nine lives,” “nine drives” suited the mood for the ninth edition of the series. It felt like we’ve been given a new lease on life. This was released in 2015, marking a decade of making these movies. Our dream has been realized and we can continue to ride powder and have fun as a group and a community. Many members of the crew received a strong international following. Board design changed dramatically from when we started in 2004. A sense of returning to the roots while continuing to progress is very evident in this edition.

Car Danchi #10: Arigato

A thank you note, a look back, a new direction and three years in the making, Car Danchi 10 is many things. I took an especially long time to put this one together. Obviously this tenth film was a big one. Although many would be happy to stop at ten, I feel like the Car Danchi series is a never-ending project that will continue to grow, change and reflect what is happening in the snow scene here in Japan. With a new English narration, the movie is more accessible to the global audience who have a high interest in the Japanese snow scene. The continuing return to the roots can be seen clearly with a strong section on the yuki ita (binding-less snowboarding) snow surf movement. The exploration of far-reaching areas of Japan like Nozawa Onsen and even Japan’s southernmost ski area—Gokase Highland in Kyushu—is the start of a new, more travel-oriented path. Let’s keep this fantastic snow journey going and enjoy it together. Many thanks for the support over the last 15 years. Arigato!

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