Nitaboh 仁太坊―津軽三味線始祖外聞 (movie) + links to beautiful shamisen music

A month ago I fell in love with the sound of the shamisen, I thought it was a shame that Agatsuma’s beautiful shamisen music hadn’t featured in any anime I had seen. Then I discovered this! Nitaboh is all about a young boy who becomes blind after illness and learns the shamisen. He eventually masters it creating his own distinctive sound, and the film shows his struggles to achieve his dream.

I found the movie very moving, there are many teary moments! The challenges Nitaboh face seem insurmountable but for the most part it is a positive story about achieving your dreams.

As with other historical anime it’s a welcome glimpse into an unknown world. I enjoyed learning about the Komusoh (blind Zen priests), Goze (blind female poets/musicians) and the Todoza (religious guild of blind musicians). It also worked well on an emotional level. Nitaboh’s blossoming friendship with Yuki, the endearing symbolism of the half shell; his father explaining that social status means he cannot join the Todoza; Kikunozuke, who recognises Nitaboh’s genius and generously provides the thick-necked shamisen, and the rivalry from other musicians trying to ruin his life and label him as unorthodox.
The film peaked for me after about an hour and 12 minutes, when Osho the priest takes Nitaboh to attempt Itako (seven days and nights of praying and fasting, so that he can discover his distinctive shamisen sound), when Nitaboh sits on the rocks confronting the waves in the storm it’s truly inspiring. I enjoyed this so much because I wasn’t expecting it – the amazing performance at the end felt inevitable but I’m glad his struggle wasn’t portrayed purely as a fight against the other jealous musicians.

I love the colours used, the purple water of the sunsets and the rich scenery interspersed in the music scenes. The musical development explained by ‘Shu Ha Ri’ (conserving, breaking tradition then departing from tradition) gave the film surprising depth. However, I’m giving this an A not an A+ overall because it lacks something magical seen in anime such as ‘Mushishi’, and feels about 20 minutes longer than it should have been.

If you are not sure what Shamisen music is, or simply want to hear more by Agatsuma, I highly recommend ‘Rainbow Wind’ (here), ‘Accustom’ (here). The Shisen Vs. Shamisen perforance is also impressive (here). Shamisen seems to be entering lots of metal circles recently – not sure if this is a good or bad development! Mike Penny and Greg Walsh are American shamisen players well worth a listen Mike/Greg.

My favourite images:

Nitaboh website.

Rating: A

3 thoughts on “Nitaboh 仁太坊―津軽三味線始祖外聞 (movie) + links to beautiful shamisen music

  1. Hey this looks very good! Shamisen, to me at least, sounds like crap. I play the guitar, which is sort of similar but shamisen is pretty much a very niche sound that’s used as a gimmick for modern music. I need to hear proper shamisen music. Recently there’s been quite a bit of shamisen in rock though. Haha.

  2. I came to know Nitaboh when I updated anime news as usual and figured out official website of Nitaboh by chance. By then, I couldn’t describe my admiration towards this beautiful anime after watching it like crazy. It is truly a worthy anime by any means. The well-directed plot, marvelous water-colour background and character design, wonderful theme songs and excellent shamisen melody, educational storyline… all of that factors catch my soul now and forever. Nitaboh becomes one of my most favourite anime of all time, and I will show it to my children in a near future once I get married ^_^

    After being a fan of Nitaboh, I also fall in love with shamisen melody of Hiromitsu Agatsuma, the artist who stands behind Nitaboh’s perfomance. While shamisen in anime is played quite classically, it is more modern and jazzy in some Agatsuma shamisen album. I have heard 2 albums named “Beam” and “Beyond” and would like to recommend them to all of you for the first view of modern shamisen.

  3. Hey! Nice promo of Nitaboh.
    I do want to clear up some info in your report.
    Mike Penny was my Shamisen student for years
    and I can tell you pretty surely that neither he or Greg
    Walsh were ever involved in “metal” of any kind. The only
    Real metal Shamisen band to come out of America so far is
    Probably my band God of Shamisen.
    Not to say there aren’t any other American Shamisen players doing Rock
    And Metal but so far the only major label international official release of such material
    (Released on EMI music Japan in 2009) Has been G.o.S.

    So hopefully you don’t mind my interjection here. Was googling my old pal Greg Walsh to see what he is up to when I stumbled upon this. Greg has been a heated rival of mine for some time and I have tried to follow his activity from time to time !

    Another thing worth mentioning is that today there is an international societ of Shamisen players that meet online and share, teach, and learn from each other the music of Tsugaru Shamisen as well as newer Shamisen styles.
    The site is called Bachido .com
    Please come visit whenever you have time!

    Thank you for your efforts in sharing the music of Tsugaru Shamisen.

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