Kanji Kato, a son-in-law of Iwao Takashima, plays a saw 80 years after Takashima performed with one in an Asahi Kodomo Graph newsreel. (Video by Ryo Kageyama)

In a “cutting-edge” performance of its time, a man about 80 years ago skillfully manipulates a bow to make violin-like tones to a piano accompaniment.

The unique sounds made by the musician are, however, not from the cello or other stringed instrument.

Surprisingly, the man in the vintage newsreel footage is using a saw to play “Kojo no Tsuki” (Moon over the Ruined Castle).

Turns out the performer was ahead of his time.

Today, playing music with saws is gradually growing in popularity and lessons are currently being offered on how to perform with the wood-cutting tool.

Kanji Kato, 90, who lives in Kodaira, western Tokyo, watched the newsreel that featured the performance, which may have shown the first Japanese to play a saw.

“The saw in the film may be the one my father-in-law gave me,” Kato said nostalgically, while comparing a saw he was holding with the one in the black-and-white footage.

The film, titled “Utau Nokogiri” (Singing saw), is among the news clips created by The Asahi Shimbun targeting children.

The Asahi Home Graph newsreel series, which started out as Asahi Kodomo Graph, was created between 1938 and 1943 and screened at cinemas and elsewhere.

While the reels were seized by the General Headquarters of the Allied Powers and taken to the United States following the end of World War II, 32 of the reels were later returned and are now kept at the National Film Archive of Japan.

The one showing the late Iwao Takashima playing a saw was discovered by The Asahi Shimbun, which has been surveying and sorting out the reels from several years ago.

In the newsreel, a saw musician holds the handle of a single-edged saw between his thighs and rubs the blade with a cello bow while skillfully bending the blade. As a saw can make various sounds, depending on the way the blade is bent, any tune can be played as long as the musician remembers the melodies.

According to “Scratch My Back,” written by a musical saw player in the United States in 1989, there are various theories as to when and where the unique music style was established.

Saw music may have been first played in the 1800s in northern Europe.

Kato, whose wife is a daughter of Takashima, said his father-in-law began playing a saw around 1933.

While no one knows how Takashima first became exposed to saw music, he was so absorbed in the instrument that he trained on his own to play a saw he asked a friend in the United States to send him.

“He was likely the first Japanese to perform saw tunes,” said Kato.

According to Kato, Takashima, director of a child welfare institution, would liken playing saws to nurturing children.

“Even saws can sing beautiful tunes if properly handled,” Takashima was quoted as saying. “My job is extracting the potential of children so that they can sing beautiful songs.”

Kato, who also serves as chairperson of the Tokiwa Kai social welfare corporation, runs a workshop for people with disabilities. At the entrance ceremony of the workshop in April, he played a saw, wowing attendees with its elegant tones.

When Kato learned about saw music, he was a college student. After watching a saw player performing on TV, Kato tried to play in his own style.

He later got to know Takashima when starting to work at a school for children with physical or mental disabilities.

“The performer on TV later became my father-in-law, much to my surprise,” said Kato.

Takashima’s saw, presented to Kato, is slightly larger than ones that are currently popular. Takashima, a man of few words, sometimes tried to express his emotions via the massive tones of the instrument, according to Kato.

“It was fortunate for me to be able to meet the respected father both in saw music and welfare work,” said Kato.

While a son of Kato is a professional musician, he also plays a saw. The father and son occasionally perform an ensemble with saws even now, allowing three generations of fathers and sons to resonate through the substantial tones unchanged over 80 years.