At a young age, Nitaroh is stricken with an illness that leaves him blind. He inherits the shamisen once used by his mother and is taught its basics by a blind traveling shamisen player. In time, with the help of friends old and new, he walks the paths that leads to his ultimate fate—that of founder of the Tsugaru style of shamisen playing.
Nitaboh gives a unique twist on the popular theme of depicting the changes that swept through Japan towards the end of the 19th century. What we're usually accustomed to in media are the lives of the samurai being impacted by the Meiji Restoration; the end of the shogunate and the influx of western influence. Instead of that, here we see the opening up of Japan enabling a son of a waterman achieve his dream of playing the shamisen.
It’s not a simple tale of a boy wanting something and setting out to do it. The film begins with Nitaroh and his widowed father
living a simple life. The boy has a gift for music; it’s nothing more than a hobby at this point. Tragedy strikes in the form of Nitaroh losing his sight, but an inspirational meeting with a wandering shamisen player prompts him to learn the instrument himself. A blind person in 19th century Japan is limited in how he can occupy his time on Earth and make ends meet.
Following his music lessons, Nitaroh's simple life is shattered by more tragedy which sets him off on an odyssey across Japan to follow his soul which is pulled by the shamisen. We watch him get older, become more proficient, and we see more of the tumultuous after-effects of the Meiji restoration grip the people of the country. A son of a waterman could never play the shamisen for a living because of his lowly social rank, but Nitaroh, encouraged by the crumbling of the social order continues onwards, no matter what the obstacles thrown in his way.
The anime is directed well, it looks authentic, and the traditional music is beautiful. The soundtrack however is a bit of a mixed bag, as whenever the shamisen isn’t playing, the other music just doesn’t compare.
Nitaboh is basically taking a very simple and often-used template, that of the rise of a music star, but puts it in a rarely used context, which is fascinating because of the social implications of the time.
For a while it was fascinating watching biopics of blues/jazz singers in America, battling against racism to succeed in their chosen profession, but now these biopics are released all the time and the novelty has worn off. Nitaboh's depiction of a boy who picks up the shamisen and wanders with it through 19th century Japan battling social rules and blindness, doesn’t necessarily feel fresh because of that overused template, but the context; that is Japan itself, keeps it compelling.
We're watching a way of life disappear while new possibilities emerge in the field of music, Nitaroh's like Elvis, introducing a new style to the world that both transfixes people and scares them.
At the end of the day, this is about a blind kid struggling through life, that's pure drama for you right there. There are many emotional moments throughout his journey; kind people who support him, bad people who treat him like crap, but he doesn’t give up.
I decided on giving it a 9 instead of a 10 because, even though it's better than thousands of other anime out there, it's still lacking in a few ways in the narrative. Nitaroh's endurance is fine, but he's a pretty passive character that somehow flows from one obstacle to another too easily, even though the obstacles get bigger and harder, as they should, it still feels too easy, too by-the-numbers. Even the last training montage feels like an excuse to show exotic and heroic scenes rather than explain to the viewer how it all relates to the development of playing an instrument better. The film starts off really strong but bit by bit lost me with redundant scenes, flimsy characters and ghostly cameos.
The film's climax is a pretty breathtaking showcase for the shamisen in a face-off that ends pretty abruptly, with no resolution at all. There's not enough passion in the telling of this musical odyssey, not enough to match the passion of the shamisen playing.
It is the 19th century of Japan, an age where the gap between the poor and the rich were as day and night, and thus having a fully functional body was required to survive. However, when a young boy is afflicted by a sudden illness that leaves him blind, he is left to cope with the struggle on being a drag to his father, and with that, his future. Ridden with insecurity, the 8-year-old child by the name of Nitaro found solace in music, specifically the shamisen, a traditional thee-stringed instrument. Nitaboh ultimately narrates the tale of a blind man and his journey to mastering
The premise may seem uninteresting for some audiences, yet Nitaboh's strength lies in exactly that: a down to earth tale of man, which was based on a real story. With that the anime sets itself apart from other works inspired from the Meiji period, also known as the Japanese revolution, which is a pleasant change to the often seen samurai struggles. This is basically a coming of age story, with its main focus on music. There are naturally issues tied to learning an instrument, especially when the apprentice is blind, and the profession itself was mainly meant to be played by either woman or monks. There is some drama present, yet was never the main focus of this piece; there is romance as well, which in fact felt rather unnatural.
The struggles that Nitaro experienced during his journey where naturally difficult, yet where very easily solved, which in turn may leave viewers disappointed. However, because the anime never emphasised on these aspects, it didn't feel too unsatisfying. In fact, in return, audiences were rewarded with a pleasant journey with both the struggles and joy of life, matched with some great music solo's, further enhancing the overall atmosphere of the anime. It must be mentioned that the flow of events could either be a bit unnatural at times, with here and there some basic dialogues.
The cast of characters in Nitaboh are small, yet sufficient to convey the story. Nitaro himself is in fact a passive person in the whole story, ocassionally undertaking some actons, yet overall rather dissapointing. This problem is further magnified when his problems are solved by others, rather than him undertaking it. Nevertheless, he is well fleshed out, as well as having some character development which was satisfying enough for its short duration.
The same could be said about the supporting cast, with some interesting people such as Kikunosuke, a young man in the chase after his dream, or Tamana and her mother, the journeying artist. As for some of the antagonists, these were mainly "vessels" of the traditional times such as monks, who were opposed to the main protagonist's way of playing music; these ultimately served to display the problems that came with the influx of western culture, as well as showcasing Nitaroh's skills.
Concerning the animation of the anime, it was as a whole average, yet satisfying enough to convey the story. Character designs were basic, yet distinguishable from each other and were consistent throughout the movie. The same could be said about the background, it is exactly as how anyone would portray the 19th century of Japan: dirt roads, wood houses, rice fields, you name it. The soundtrack of the movie was befitting, with naturally a prevalent use of the shamisen, which had great solo's, only heightening the experience the movie has to offer. There are however some unfitting uses of some of its compositions: at times the anime has some comedic scenes which were introduced with out-of-place music, which broke a bit with the immersion. The voice actors performed their roles well, each character seemingly having fitting voice for each role.
All in all, Nitaboh was a highly enjoyable anime with a great premise and journey, yet experienced shortcomings in the character department. Regardless of these issues, the music itself, which was the main focus, was very well executed with the magnificent solo's offered for the unfamiliar instrument, which if I may add, is a joy to listen to. I would recommend anyone with an interest in either music or historical genre to check this piece out, as it is one overlooked title which was very satisfying on a personal level.
"Don't just follow the path of others, play your own Music!"
Well, the story is set at 1868 which is the beginning of the Meiji period & end of the Edo period. So you might expect the story to be about political troubles or Samurai conflicts, but that’s not the case. You get to experience that time from a different angle, an angle of music!
It begins with a boy who's playing the flute as a hobby, until tragedy befalls him and he's blinded, to compensate he dives deeper into the world of music.
He hears a Samurai monk performing and he decides to be just like
him, but he's told no because of his lowly social status which was important to play music at the time. Nonetheless he falls in love music & in particular with the sounds of the Shamisen & decides to dive deeper.
The story goes on to tell us about that boy who is all grown up now, and the hardship he went through to learn the harder skills of the Shamisen and the hardships to perform.
Although a Shamisen player’s life may seem hard, he is told every musician goes through "Shu Ha Ri" which are the stages of learning the basics then getting familiar with the sounds & finally composing new sounds. That's the path he chose, the path of Music!
The background music was nothing special, but the Shamisen playing is amazing as you would expect, since it's the main storyline.
Various Shamisen tones are played throughout the movie, if you've never really listened to Shamisen playing, you will discover a great instrument and surely fall in love with it. But if you are familiar with it, then you'll discover sounds you probably never though the Shamisen are capable of, or at least enjoy them. Maybe this is just me, but I got even goose bumps listening this music!
The art was great & well done. It may seem realistic & it is very beautiful.
Nothing else to say other than it's truly wonderful!
Anyone who's in love with music will definitely love this movie. It is truly an inspiring story. Passion for music is the plot.
Nitaboh is not an anime that will appeal to a general audience. Its fanbase is, indeed, about as narrow as that of the Shamisen music the film revolves around.
Casting itself as a biopic, Nitaboh could have chosen to focus entirely on the life of Nitaroh and his attempts to play the Shamisen, and indeed it tells that story as well as a movie could, but the film does not confine itself to the theme of blind musicians.
Set in a time of great social change for Japan, in a rural area where that change is slow to take
root, Nitaboh examines the inequality of societal castes and depicts the gradual changing of the guard. Police of the Meiji State are clad in French-inspired uniforms and sport western moustache that stand out sharply with the rest of the populace. The disorder brought about by the discontent of the Samurai class touches Nitaroh personally, and gradually we see more western as the years of the film go by. Nitaboh shows a society undergoing change, and the rise of unorthodox Shamisen music is an aspect of Japan's gradual break from its past.
Nitaboh is also a love story to the Touhouku region, which receives little attention compared to the rest of Japan. I greatly appreciated the opportunity to have a look at a unique place and time in Japan, to say nothing of the story of Nitaroh himself.
The music, as might be expected, is wonderful. It was the compelling music produced with just three chords that merited Nitaroh's story being told in the first place, and the viewer should greatly enjoy the various performances that are given spotlight throughout the film. In particular, I loved the Goze near the beginning of the movie's singing with Shamisen accompaniment, and the music of the credits- it is seldom I sit patiently throughout an entire credit scene, but I did not want to go anywhere due to the music's surpassing beauty.
The pitfall of Nitaboh that keeps it from true greatness, beyond its subject matter, is that the characters have a penchant for narration that seemingly has no purpose other than the viewer's benefit. Dialogue frequently feels unnatural, and the characters are not hugely developed as individuals, but they are largely commendable, idealized figures.
I came to the film with a historical interest, and a desire to see more of the life of the blind- a point that was not terribly developed, but Nitaboh did not suffer for it. I would strongly recommend it to fans of Meiji Japan and those who love period music.