Touching the Sound: The Improbable Journey of Nobuyuki Tsujii
I welcomed Peter Rosen’s film of Nobuyuki Tsujii’s Carnegie Hall debut in the November 2012 issue. Here Rosen tells the story of the young pianist’s life. ‘When he was a day old in hospital,’ reveals his mother, ‘I noticed all the other babies had their eyes open. Nobu’s were closed. I realised then that something was wrong.’ The journey begins. With copious use of family videos we watch the development of this blind little Japanese boy, from a tiny tot picking out ‘Jingle Bells’ on a toy piano – he can play any tune that is sung to him – progressing quickly to major recital pieces, to his first piano competitions (successes and disappointments) and his 2009 joint Gold Medal win at the International Van Cliburn Piano Competition. The final scenes show Tsujii visiting the desolate scenes in his home country following the 2011 tsunami, accompanied, as he is wherever he travels, by his devoted, all-seeing friend and manager Nick Asano.
Nobu is neither autistic nor savant, as has been claimed in some quarters, but I should like to have heard more from him about the music he plays (he learns it not by Braille but by listening to recordings, one of the left hand, one of the right, having the expression markings read to him). Perhaps, after all, it is best to let the music-making do the talking. Van Cliburn is quoted as saying that Tsujii’s playing had the ‘power of a healing service’. Jury member Menahem Pressler comments: ‘I had to hold back my tears when I left the hall.’ I had no such inhibitions at several points during this film. It is not only an improbable journey but a compelling and inspirational one.