Nitaboh, The Shamisen Master (2004) Review

nitaboh1Maiyumi reviews Nitaboh, rated #99 in Reddit’s greatest anime movie list at the time of reviewing.  

Nitaboh (2004) was directed by Akio Nishizawa. The story is based on a historical novel written by Daijo Kazuo, the story is set in the late 19th century at the end of the Edo period (1868 roughly).

The film begins with Nitaboh, who is about 8 years old, Nitaboh meets a young girl around the the same age, at a festival. The children part ways as Nitaboh and his dad leave the festivities and head home. However it is during this journey home, Nitaboh is struck down by a fever and has to be carried home. It is then the story establishes that Nitaboh’s main struggle in his life, as he is left blinded.

Nitaboh3As the years pass Nitaboh becomes more enthused by music, all he wants to do is play. After meeting a Komusoh, (a zen priest who travels and plays music for donations) who plays the shakuhachi (a bamboo flute) Nitaboh proclaims to his father that he will become a Komusoh, however his father tells him only Samurai can become Komusoh. Disheartened, Nitaboh searches for another calling, he soon finds it when a Goze (A blind female poet and musician, who performs for donations) visits the village. Nitaboh becomes fascinated with the shamisen (which is played similar to a guitar) and is determined to master the instrument. His father then gives him his mother’s shamisen, who died when soon after Nitaboh was born. He also discovers that the Goze’s daughter was the young girl he met at the festival a few years prior, the two become close and the Goze agrees to stay in the village to teach Nitaboh the shamisen.

Nitaboh4After his training the Goze and her daughter leave the village to continue their travels. Personally I was hoping that the Goze and Nitaroh’s dad would end up together, however that would end up being a happy ending, and at this point of the story that wasn’t to happen. As not long after their parting, a storm brews up, and Nitaroh’s dad (who was a waterman) is forced to take a couple of criminals across the river, which leads to their deaths. After the death of his father Nitaroh is left alone.

nitaboh 4After a time skip, Nitaroh is now an adult who travels around the area playing the shamisen for donations, the village itself seems to be helpful and caring for Nitaroh, always talking to him and complimenting his music. At this part of the film, I was a bit relieved to think that Nitraoh wasn’t entirely alone, that the village pitched in a watched over him as he grew. I was also glad to see that the Goze’s daughter, Yuki, returns to the village.

Nitaroh continues to practice his music, however he still isn’t satisfied and continues to improve his style. Nitaroh even if given the nickname of Nitraboh, which is a combination of Nitaroh and Bossama; the Bossama are a well known group of shamisen players, a very high profile group, being accepted into the Bossama is validation of mastering the shamisen. However that doesn’t mean they are a nice bunch of people, as through out the film the Bossama seem to be stuck up and a bunch of bullys to Nitaroh.

Nitaroh and his friends are more determined to help push Nitraoh to become the best shamisen player he could become. However after his rough playing breaks the instrument, Kikunosuke buys him a thick necked shamisen, an instrument usually used accompanying other instruments, not usually used as a solo instrument. However it’s thickness can withstand Nitaroh’s rough style. After struggling to master the thick-necked shamisen, Nitaroh begins a journey to train under the Itako (blind female mediums), who live in the mountains. The training was long and difficult however Nitaroh completed it and began a new style of playing the shamisen, which is known as the Tsugaru style.

The characters themselves in the film are heart warming, most of them where very caring for Nitaroh and supported him and helped him through his struggles. I really cared for Nitaroh’s father, he was kind and incredibly supportive to Nitaroh; I also liked that he didn’t lie to Nitaroh, he didn’t give his son false hope of what he could and couldn’t do. But when Nitaroh found his passion, he did all he could to support him, until the day he died. Nitaroh himself didn’t have much confident, he didn’t believe that he was never good enough and he must try harder. However towards the end of the film Nitaroh’s personality developed tremendously, he became confident and stopped worrying so much as to what the audience wanted from him. He also didn’t let his skill get to his head like the Bossama, he was modest and only wanted to play, and he wasn’t fussed with crowds or other people’s skills. The supporting characters were more upbeat and hopeful than Nitaroh was; they help to guide him, which was nice to watch. They all knew Nitroh’s skills and life would be limited, but they didn’t let that stop them from telling Nitaroh to aim higher in life.

There are only one or two downsides to this film that I could find, and even so they were not significant to the story. Personally I wanted a bit more romance for the story; I really hoped that Yuki and Nitaroh would end the film with their marriage or a kiss (I am a sucker for a happy ending). However a romance wasn’t completely needed with this story, as it was more about over coming self-doubt and taking life’s hardships head on. Yuki and Nitaroh’s relationship was never obviously shown, they didn’t show romantic affection in the film, however I would like to believe that something developed between them after the film had ended. That Nitaroh couldn’t show affection for Yuki until he had completed what he set out to do when he was a child. They certainly cared deeply for each other.

Rating: 3.5/5

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