Premiers Friday, May 10th at 8:00pm on WTVP-HD 47.1.
“Music communicates the purest form of human emotion.” - Jake Shimabukuro
JAKE SHIMABUKURO: LIFE ON FOUR STRINGS
is a compelling portrait of an inspiring and inventive musician whose virtuoso skills on the
ukulele have transformed all previous notions of the instrument’s potential. Through intimate
conversations with Shimabukuro (pronounced she-ma-BOO-koo-row), LIFE ON FOUR STRINGS
reveals the cultural and personal influences that have shaped the man and the musician. On the
road from Los Angeles to New York to Japan, the film captures the solitary life on tour: the
exhilaration of performance, the wonder of newfound fame, the loneliness of separation from
home and family. Directed by acclaimed filmmaker Tadashi Nakamura, the film premieres Friday,
May 10, 2013, 8:00-9:00 p.m. on WTVP-HD 47.1.
A 30-something, fourth-generation Japanese American, Shimabukuro was born and
raised in Honolulu, the child of parents who both loved music. Shimabukuro’s mother, Carol,
played the ukulele and began to teach him at age four, as soon as his fingers were big enough
to reach the chords. “The first time she put it in my hands I was just mesmerized by the sound
of the instrument,” he says. “Every time I played the ukulele or heard it I felt so at peace.
It just brought me home.” At age 13, when his parents divorced, Shimabukuro found solace in
music, retreating to his room for hours. “I just played — it wasn’t practice — I just played,”
Archival footage of Shimabukuro’s performances from his teenage years to the present
shows the evolution of an artist. Shimabukuro discusses his musical influences, starting with
traditional Hawaiian music and performers such as Eddie Kamae, whose interpretations of musical
genres outside the standard repertoire encouraged Shimabukuro to experiment on his own. He began
to compose and play rock, pop, jazz and classical music on the ukulele, an instrument that,
outside Hawaii, was mostly viewed as a novelty.
In those early years, Shimabukuro was interested in playing everything as fast
as he could, changing the sound with distortion pedals and amplifiers. But, over time, he came
to believe that trying to make the ukulele into something else was disrespectful. He decided
that if he were going to manipulate the sound of the instrument he would do it with his hands.
“Once I committed to that path, the way that I approached music changed,” he says. “It wasn’t
just about trying to play as fast as I could anymore. It was about letting the instrument breathe.
That was when I really started to learn how to utilize space in my music.”
While on tour in New York, Shimabukuro revisits the site in Central Park where
a video was made of his soulful rendition of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” Uploaded unbeknownst
to him, it became one of the first YouTube videos ever to go viral. His career exploded.
In addition to Shimabukuro’s performances at concerts before sold-out crowds — where
incredibly one man and one small instrument can hold huge audiences spellbound — the film captures
his appearances at schools, providing glimpses of a man at ease with himself and happy to
introduce children to the joy of music.
A few months after the devastating tsunami, Shimabukuro accompanies his longtime
manager Kasuza Flanagan to her hometown — Sendai, Japan — the epicenter of the tragedy. The
healing power of music is made palpably visible as he begins to play for the residents of a
shelter. Wrinkled faces soften, eyes close in memory of a long-forgotten tune, toes tap out
rhythm — even smiles break through.
Back home in Oahu, Shimabukuro is surrounded by friends and family. Now married
to obstetrician Kelly Yamasato and expecting their first child, Shimabukuro ponders his past —
and a future he knows is sure to change.
Director and Editor Tadashi Nakamura Executive Producers Stephen Gong & Ruth Bolan Producer Donald Young Senior Consulting Producer Spencer Nakasako Directors of Photography Jim Choi & Na’Alelhu Anthony Location Sound Adriano Bravo
A production of Center for Asian American Media and Pacific Islanders in
Communications in association with Paliku Documentary Films
A Co-Presentation of PBS Hawaii
About the Filmmaker
A few short years ago, Los Angeles-based filmmaker Tadashi Nakamura was named one of CNN’s
“Young People Who Rock” for being the youngest filmmaker at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival,
as well as one of the “30 Most Influential Asian Americans Under 30” by the popular website
Angry Asian Man. LIFE ON FOUR STRINGS is the 32-year-old, fourth- generation
Japanese American’s first full-length documentary.
Nakamura’s trilogy of documentary films on the Japanese-American experience,
Yellow Brotherhood (2003), Pilgrimage (2007) and A Song for Ourselves (2009)
have garnered more than 20 awards at film festivals around the world, with Pilgrimage
being one of 83 short films out of 7,500 submissions selected for the 2008 Sundance Film Festival.
Film scholar B. Ruby Rich remarked, “Nakamura takes the joy of activism and makes it downright
About The Center for Asian American Media The Center for Asian American Media (CAAM) is a non-profit
organization dedicated to presenting stories that convey the richness and diversity of Asian-American
experiences to the broadest audience possible by funding, producing, distributing and exhibiting
works in film, television and digital media.
CAAM presents innovative, engaging Asian-American works on public television. Since
launching the groundbreaking Asian-American anthology series “Silk Screen” (1982-1987) on PBS,
CAAM continues to bring award-winning works to millions of viewers nationwide. CAAM is one of
five minority public broadcasting consortia designated by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting
(CPB) to provide programming for public broadcasting.
About Pacific Islanders in Communications Pacific Islanders in Communications (PIC) was established
in Honolulu in 1991 as a national non-profit media arts corporation. PIC is a member of the National
Minority Consortia (NMC), which collectively addresses the need for programming that reflects America’s
growing ethnic and cultural diversity. Other NMC members serve the Asian American, Latino, black and
Native American populations. Over the past years, NMC members have provided hundreds of hours of
culturally diverse programs to PBS. Primary funding for PIC and the NMC is provided through an annual
grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB).
The mission of PIC is to support, advance, and develop Pacific Island media content
and talent that results in a deeper understanding of Pacific Island history, culture and contemporary
challenges. In keeping with the mission, PIC helps Pacific Islander stories reach national audiences
through funding support for productions, training and education, broadcast services, and community
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