REVIEW: Touching the Sound

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Touching the Sound: The Improbable Journey of Nobuyuki Tsujii screens on Saturday at 1 p.m. and April 23 at 5 p.m. as part of RiverRun International Film Festival in Winston-Salem. Director Peter Rosen will be in attendance for both screenings, which take place at Hanesbrands.

by Jordan Green

Touching the Sound
Touching the Sound

The idea of blind people having an extraordinary ability to discern sound to compensate for their lack of sight goes back at least as far as the “Little House on the Prairie” series. That blind people seem predisposed to music is a fact borne out by the careers of Ray Charles, Doc Watson, Stevie Wonder and Ronnie Milsap.

So Touching the Sound, a documentary about the Japanese piano prodigy Nobuyuki Tsujii, holds no great reveal, except perhaps through the epiphany experienced by the boy’s mother. Initially unprepared to raise a blind child, she describes the first months of his life as comparable to being in “dark tunnel.” It’s only when he displays an uncanny ability to play tunes by ear on a toy piano that she suddenly discovers that her son’s life, far from being constrained, holds unlimited potential. Viewers who are moderately sophisticated on the dynamics can experience the wonder of the pianist’s talent through his mother’s vantage point, even if the premise of the story is not particularly novel.

Director Peter Rosen takes viewers through bravura performances, lyrical visits to the beach and nail-biting competitions. Highlights include a triumphant performance at Carnegie Hall in New York City and a touching tour of a tsunami-stricken area of Japan, with a companion performance alongside a children’s choir. The former establishes the virtuosity of the pianist, nicknamed Nobu, while the latter reveals his extraordinary sensitivity. He’s clearly affected by the devastation, described to him in detail by his tour manager — proof again that blindness isn’t a limitation.

Even at 68 minutes, the documentary runs a little long as it recycles a handful of themes, but its most endearing angle might be the cross-cultural truism that disability need not be a liability.

Touching the Sound: The Improbable Journey of Nobuyuki Tsujii, dir. Peter Rosen, 2014, 68 min.

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