Takeo Nikura has always loved music. Old home videos taken by his mother have captured his development as a musician and as a man with Down Syndrome. In such old footage, are images of Takeo socially interacting with people through the power of music. Having attempted several instruments such as piano, harmonica and marimba through his development, Takeo had found a love for African drumming. After having participated in an African drumming workshop in elementary school, Takeo became obsessed with the instrument and practiced tirelessly everyday for a year until the instructor held his workshop again. Takeo had shown great improvement and became close with his instructor, who later became his mentor and main supporter.
With the support of his instructor ,Takeo began to perform in local concerts. Now 24 years old and with many performances under his belt, Takeo signed up for a drumming workshop in Senegal, the homeland of his beloved instrument. There, he traveled with five other drum enthusiasts from Japan, his mother and the film crew. Surrounded by supportive and nurturing teachers, friends, family and artists, Takeo develops as a musician as well as an individual.
Takeo is sociable to everyone he encounters no matter what age, race, or gender despite the fact that he cannot clearly verbally communicate with others. He communicates through music, the universal language and his love for people. In the film, we see Takeo showing off his skill set, flirting, joking with others, and bonding with fellow musicians. Yet,
we also see Takeo quietly taking in the breathtaking environment of Senegal’s natural environment . the winds rustling through the great trees and the calm waves of the beaches hitting the sand.
Takeo’s spirit is one in sync with nature and it is evident in the film that living with Down Syndrome has yet to hinder Takeo’s ambitions and dreams, and may never will for his passion for life and music is larger than life. Takeo’s enthusiasm for music is inspirational, and his journey unforgettable.
Born in 1954, Tokida is a graduate of Nihon University’s School and the Japan Institute of the Moving Image. He then worked as a freelance cinematographer in Toei Studio’s educational film department. Later, Tokida filmed promotional videos for the humanitarian aid organization, Doctors Without Borders (Medecins Sans Frontieres) to promote awareness. He currently is a part of the production company, group Low Position. This film is his directorial debut and he is a member of the Japanese Society of Cinematographers.
Born in 1986, Takeo was born with Down Syndrome and was unable to walk until the age of 3 years old due to his weak muscles. When he was 11 years old, Takeo had his fateful encounter with African Sabar drumming and practiced everyday, which helped him develop strong muscles on his formerly weak body. Takeo has learned to play African instruments like Sabar, Djembe and Balafon, as well as the piano and marimba.
Performing in about 20 concerts annually, his time on stage is “an open space for sound,” where he energetically and passionately drums and dances for his audience.
Along with music, Takeo also enjoys drawing. While working at a photography studio, Takeo also holds music classes for children with Down Syndrome, but just plays instruments with them rather than instructing them in hopes to share the joy he has found with music.
Many people almost instantly realize Takeo’s talent upon hearing him perform for the first time. We held a screening event for this film in Tokyo, Osaka and Saitama, where we presented a “Screening and Performance by Takeo.” After seeing Takeo’s journey with him through the film, we wanted to let the audience actually experience his energy in person and leave that lasting impression for when they left the theatre.
I first heard Takeo perform about six months before we actually traveled to Senegal for this film. The producer had asked me to film one of Takeo’s concerts, and my first reaction really was not that of awe, but more of confusion from the chaos of it all. Is this considered good? Before leaving for Senegal, I had filmed a few more of Takeo’s concerts, but the slight confusion still lingered.
In the hostel in Senegal was myself, Takeo, his mother, the producer and the five other workshop members where we lived together for the duration of our stay. While Takeo does understand words spoken to him, he is unable to verbally reciprocate.
We have learned to understand some of the words in Takeo’s vocabulary, but still struggle to fully understand what he means to convey. Yet, despite this barrier, he manages to draws even strangers into his delightfully enchanting world through his own way of communicating. It was all very curious and fascinating.
Even in the film, there are several scenes of Takeo communicating with others. No matter what language one speaks, he or she is always enthusiastic to talk with Takeo.
Though he cannot communicate with words, he is expressive with his body language and having a “conversation” with Takeo is fun. He listens, which guarantees good company .he nods and comments in agreement when you speak with him.
I often feel like I’m seeing the real life Momo, the illiterate, yet wise character in Michael Ende’s book of the same name when I see Takeo. During my stay in Senegal, I accidentally drank some bad water and was met with an excruciating day. Takeo came and sat with me and asked, “Toki, are you okay?” as he curiously watched over. After that, I carefully observed and was impressed by Takeo’s attentiveness and mindfulness towards everybody around him. Takeo has a grasp on humanity that many of us have long forgotten.
While I took note of the subtleties of Takeo’s character, I felt us synchronizing to accommodate and support one another. Not just amongst the group, but with Senegal too, and the soul of music helped us to understand the passion and beauty of Takeo’s rhythm.
I love Takeo’s music now: his piano, marimba, even harmonica-playing, and
of course his drumming. Yet, Takeo and his music have not really changed
post-Senegal. But I have. I have realized that true music is “trusting
your own rhythm, and to feel the rhythm of nature,” . something that cannot
be taught, but can only be holistically understood through body, mind,
and soul. Education now consists of what you cannot do, rather than what
Takeo is an example of someone who has something to offer the world and
can successfully communicate it in the purest form. I want children to
live in a world where they can believe in their own rhythm, to feel and
know it at a young age and grow up to make it their own.
Through this film, I am sure that many viewers will have the same emotional and spiritual experience that I had, and be inspired by Takeo’s enthusiasm and passion for music and life.
" This documentary proves that the real essence of music lies not
in our ability to perform it with perfection,
but rather in our capacity to share the joy of it with others."
New York Philharmonic Education
" The film about Takeo is just amazing. It shows the great artistry
of a young man who shows the world that language is important but not as
important as it is made out to be. Communication through the heart is at
the heart of the matter.
Takeo manages to bridge the gap between the cerebral art world and the art world that is developed from an strong inner conviction and feeling. He is an ambassador of direct communication. My great admiration goes to his mother and his music teachers who saw the potential in Takeo and helped him to realize his love for music and dancing. They gave him the opportunities to see and learn from other artists and from the arts of other cultures. As it is evidence in the film, Takeo does not need a translator he communicates through his love for music and dancing. This film should not only be made available in Japan but in other countries too. It is an educational film and is a must, to be seen by educationalists who are genuinely interested in promoting a more balanced educational curriculum.Thank you to Takeo and the team to provide us with such a wonderful insight of the development of a young artist. "
Director of the Amici Dance Company (England)
" The film about Takeo is a present for parents and teachers in de education of people with Down Syndrome. Takeo shows his specific musical ability. His music teachers show a so-called ‘learning by doing’ coaching method: ‘the’ way they can best learn mostly.
I showed the film to a number of teachers and they said: this film is an
excellent example of how we have to coach our Down Syndrome pupils to develop
their specific talents. At the end of the film we see the same ‘learning
by doing’ coaching method in Takeo itself in contact with ‘other’ talented
children. Fantastic. But there is happening more here. We see Takeo as
a energy healer for this kids too. A wish from here (the Netherlands):
let Takeo do his musical energy work with kids as a job at much more places
and moments than now. His ‘ability’ to talk directly to their hearts is
a gift for the mankind and for this kids. "
Marleen Oosterhof-van der Poel
Psychologist and educationalist (Netherlands)