“All I’m trying to do and all I want to do is just connect with people.”
Imagine a child being given with a ukulele. Silly and playful he pretends to play, moving his fingers back and forth as quickly as he can. Now imagine a hyper adult doing the same thing, using the instrument to indulge themselves in a session of air guitar. Both scenarios feature someone utilizing the ukulele in such a way as to deny the chance of actual music emerging.
As Jake Shimabukuro: Life Begins On Four Strings begins, I think I am watching someone messing around, for though I can clearly hear music the motion of the fingers on the ukulele defies what I hear. No way can someone’s hands move so fast and produce not only discernible sound but actual awe-inspiring music. The music stops and so too the fingers on the ukulele, and I realize Jake Shimabukuro has shattered my preconceptions.
Simply put he is a phenomenal musician.
While the disc could easily showcase his music alone and earn high praise, the story of the man behind the music adds another dimension of appreciation to such amazing talent. It’s a rare honesty Shimabukuro displays. Usually in documentaries there’s a distance between viewer and subject. The subject is willing to talk yet there can be a lack of true emotional connection. Though I stand by anyone’s right to keep parts of themselves restrained and indeed would choose to do the same Shimabukuro’s willingness to fully disclose means the viewer is fully engaged.
He is a humble, sensitive, and gifted individual who gets to travel the world and see things many of us will only ever dream of. Yet instead of playing up how wonderful it all is he acknowledges his success while simultaneously refusing to conceal the continuing cost of achieving those dreams. There is no pity asked for or sympathy yet by sharing with such candor, he earns our empathy.
The most joyous scenes are the ones where Shimabukuro plays with children. It’s wonderful watching their eyes light up as they recognize the song he plays and hearing their giggles as he makes his fingers dance along the strings faster than they can believe — and then there’s a complete tonal shift as he travels to Sendai, Japan after the tsunami in order to offer whatever comfort he can. Which brings me to the best part of Jake Shimabukuro and that’s his joy in sharing his music with anyone. No matter what walk of life someone is from he’s equally happy to be playing for them. His smile as he entertains someone cannot be contained.
Jake Shimabukuro: Life On Four Strings is one of the most effectively edited documentaries there is. There’s so much information shared over the short runtime, it feels encompassing. We dip in and out of various scenes, touching on bits of Shimabukuro’s life in mere glimpses yet always during meaningful moments. No amount of runtime is wasted as we see the audiences and auditoriums he plays both big and small. Brief insights into those closest to Shimabukuro reveal an immediate fondness and loyalty, which could easily go on for many minutes yet their summation works beautifully.
Jake Shimabukuro: Life On Four Strings is a rare documentary I will share with my loved ones so we can have that common experience of hearing one of the great modern musicians. An easy recommend.
The standard def 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer does a bit of a disservice to the film, as it needlessly flattens out the stream. Normally not an issue yet when dealing with historical video clips and the like I actually prefer a more compact ratio so as to preserve as much of the original media’s integrity as possible. Not to imply everyone here suffers from pancake face yet there are times when I notice the flatness. Other times the stream is fine, it’s the hit-or-miss nature of most documentaries which rely on multiple video sources.
However, the audio is where you really want to be blown away on a disc like this. Shimabukuro’s playing is such I can’t tell it is Dolby Digital 2.0 instead of a more desirable multi-channel stream. Honestly I don’t notice anything wrong with the audio; I am too caught up in what he does to wonder what tracks are being used. Of course, an upgrade to 5.1 or even DTS-HD one day will be fantastic and serve to properly fill the audio space such you can feel like you’re there.
There are no bonus features
Jake Shimabukuro: Life On Four Strings is an engrossing piece. There’s an unexpected candor drawing you in and Shimabukuro’s playing must be heard to be believed. Ideally you’ll purchase this and support PBS in the process. Barring that, find a way to hear him play something; you will not be disappointed.