Near the end of the 19th century, the blind street performer Nitabo created some of the most important music in Japanese history using a traditional three stringed lute called the shamisen. His musical style was known as Tsugaru Shamisen and was passed on through generations along with Nitabo's teaching "play your own style."

Over 100 years later, in 2003, the American musician Kevin Masaya Kmetz picked up a Tsugaru Shamisen. Since then, he has devoted his life to the mastering of this instrument and the music of Tsugaru, while at the same time incorporating ancient and modern music from around the world to create a wholly new and innovative sound.

This documentary film, The Birth of California Shamisen, follows Kevin's journey to Japan where he studied Tsugaru Shamisen, then back to California where his collaborations with various musicians would eventually lead to the creation of his new musical style: California Shamisen. Kevin's unique approach to music and his wicked sense of humor permeates throughout the film, yet his main focus is clear: return to Japan and win the National Tsugaru Shamisen Competition!

Director's Statement >>