Life is Climbing – A Review

Koba and Naoya

Disclaimer: Climb Onsight is a sponsor for the Canadian release of Life is Climbing. The Canadian screening information is at the bottom of the post.

In climbing lingo, “Onsight” or “on-sight” means that a climber walked up to a cliff and, without any beta or knowledge of the climb, successfully sends the route on their first attempt. Onsight, a term converted from the words “on + sight”, presumes that the climber has “sight,” i.e., they climbed the route immediately upon seeing it for the first time.

It seems, as a given then, that sight is the only necessary human sense to have to climb. Indeed, famous climbers have succeeded with a missing finger or without hearing. But without sight? Inconceivable.

Or is it? Life is Climbing, a fantastic and inspiring documentary on the lives of Kobayashi Koichiro (or “Koba” as he is known) and Suzuki Naoya, shows that resilience and determination make seemingly impossible feats, attainable.

Koba and Naoya in front of van

The movie follows Koba, a blind paraclimber, and his guide Naoya, as they travel to Utah, United States, to ascend the Fisher Towers. But before we get to the awe-inspiring climax, Director Sokichi Nakahara, in his directorial debut, begins in the safety of a climbing gym in Japan, where Koba is being guided by a young female climber.

Director Sokichi Nakahara

The girl is mesmerized by Koba’s ability. And she has every right to be. Koba is the consecutive four-time champion in the men’s B1 class (the division where fully blind climbers participate, so all athletes must climb with a blindfold).

Out from the climbing gym, Koba and Naoya travel to the United States in October 2021 to conquer the Twin Spire Peaks. Along the way, Koba and Naoya climb various routes and visit friends with special places in their lives.

Fisher Towers

They travel to the home of Erik Weihenmeyer, the first blind mountaineer who reached the highest point on all seven continents, who mentored Koba when he began to lose his vision; they meet a mutual friend who introduced the paid; and they share a campsite and a few days of climbing with another friend.

Koba and Eric
Koba and Mike

The movie, as much as it is a “climbing” documentary, focuses on friendships, the bonds made during climbing, and how people inspire one another. It is deliberately paced so we understand how Koba and Naoya got where they are today.

Now, the documentary’s climbing scenes are not an afterthought. I felt like I needed some chalk watching Koba climb (hands sweating and heart racing).

In one scene, Koba is climbing a finger crack on Hayutake, a route in Indian Creek. His left hand found a crimp, and his right hand’s four fingers were jammed in the crack. His right foot is perched on the crack, but his left is furiously stabbing at the blank wall hoping to find a tiny indent to rest. He stabs up, down, left, right, barely missing the minuscule foothold, and then…. Well, I’m not going to spoil it.

Koba climbing

Life is Climbing is the latest in a string of fantastic climbing documentaries, which includes The Alpinist, Free Solo, DNA, and the Dawn Wall.

What I loved about Life is Climbing is that it shows that climbing, or life in general, does not need a herculean feat of strength. Instead, we can face challenges together. And there is no better representation of that than Koba and Naoya.

Life Is Climbing Poster
Life is Climbing screening info:
Vancouver: From June 3, 2024 @ VIFF Centre ( Koba, Naoya and the Director will be attending the screenings on June 3 and 4!
Toronto: June 7, 2024 @ Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre ( as a part of Toronto Japanese Film Festival ( Koba, Naoya and the Director will be attending the screening!
Climbing Event & Panel with Koba, Naoya and Director:
June 10th @ True North Climbing. Organized by Canadian Adaptive Climbing Society
Distributed by Momo Films and Synca.
momo films logo
Picture of Shaun Rosenthal

Shaun Rosenthal

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