Take a look at this amazing movie (see the trailer below). I saw the movie this afternoon. It was followed by a live performance by the boy himself, Takeo. Both were brilliant. The movie is in Japanese with no subtitles, so for those who don’t understand Japanese, here’s a brief summary.

Takeo is now about 25 years old. He has Downs Syndrome. He still couldn’t walk at the age of 3. He loves music and has a good sense of rhythm. His mum noticed this and helped and encouraged him. Downs kids are not easily educable (tho there’s a wide spectrum of disability), yet we see Takeo learning complex rhythm patterns. When he was 11,  he encountered the Senegal Sabar drum. He was apparently taught Senegal drumming by a Senegal drummer, Wagan N’Diaye Rose, who has given many drumming workshops in Japan. The movie shows footage of a visit by Takeo to Senegal for a Senegal drumming workshop, which includes jam sessions with the celebrated African musician (and Wagan’s father) Doudou N’Diaye Rose. We also see scenes of Takeo playing the drums, marimba, xylophone, piano, and other instruments, both alone and with others, notably an elementary music school teacher who invites Takeo to his home/workshop/studio and lets him play with whatever he wants, and a jazz pianist who enjoys improvising with Takeo and lets Takeo do the same.

The movie ends with an extraordinary performance by Takeo under a baobab tree – he first approaches the tree slowly and bowing, he plays a drum underneath its boughs, pausing every now and then to sing or to pick up a stick to drum with but you get the feeling he’s still feeling the inner silent rhythm even when he’s not drumming, and he finishes by backing slowly away from the tree.

[yframe url=’http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fB3Y1YxoSqU’]

After the movie finished to loud applause, a troupe of musicians came in playing a variety of African percussion instruments, followed by Takeo himself. When they were all assembled on the stage, Takeo motioned to them all to stop, but they did not immediately obey. Takeo then took the mike and began talking, tho it was hard to understand what he was trying to say. One of the musicians eventually got tired and cut off his mike and started playing, but Takeo obviously didn’t like this and sulked, refusing to play.

The musicians were very good and the rhythm was infectious. A woman in the audience got up and began dancing, as did several children. She moved to the front and danced around Takeo. Slowly, he melted and began dancing with her, then playing the drum he was carrying. Suddenly the piece ended and the room erupted in applause.

My daughter was there right in the front row. At one point she stood up and approached the drum set Takeo was playing and began tapping on it.  She too has Downs Syndrome.

Here’s a 2006 video of Takeo playing the balafon:

[yframe url=’http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LRoNjAyA5Ys’]

Homepage for the movie: http://www.takeo-cinema.jp/preview.html

Here’s a similar performance to the one we saw, with the same musicians “Malaika”, playing in Osaka, Japan, earlier this year. It’s really interesting to see how musicians and audience react to an unpredictable player! It looks like he’s just doing his own thing, following his own drum as it were, and then he and all the other players come right into sync and finish all together. Astounding.

[yframe url=’http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hu2_LDv8A1g’]