About the Film

“WORDS CAN’T GO THERE” is a feature-length documentary exploring the story of California surfer turned Japanese shakuhachi flute master John ‘Kaizan’ Neptune. Directed by John’s son David Neptune and produced by our team of filmmakers in Los Angeles, the film examines what it takes to cross cultural borders and become a master of this traditional art form. John has innovated on the shakuhachi’s design and developed new sounds never heard before with the instrument. His efforts have been praised by most but criticized by some. John has lived in Japan for over 40 years, focusing single-mindedly on the shakuhachi to further delve into the infinite possibilities of sound. But what are the sacrifices involved with becoming a true master?

This story told from David’s perspective will take audiences on an unforgettable journey through personal discoveries, humorous interludes and musical epiphanies.


Who is John “Kaizan” Neptune?

Born in California in 1951, John Neptune was an adventurous boy who loved playing baseball and catching lizards in the desert with his father and brother. John went on to attend the University of Hawaii mainly because he absolutely loved to surf. Uninspired by traditional academics, he realized he was less and less interested in pursuing a degree or a conventional life path. He decided to drop out of school to further pursue his love of surfing in South America. With one more semester already paid for, he asked for recommendations and ended up in a class called ethnomusicology – the study of world music.

This class opened up the idea of music as a way of understanding culture and exploring different ways of thinking. It was because of it that John first heard the sound of the shakuhachi – a traditional Japanese flute made from a single piece of bamboo. Completely taken by the instrument, he saved up some money and moved to Japan in 1973 at the age of 22 for the sole purpose of studying at the Tozan school of shakuhachi. After several years of focused training and overcoming challenges in Kyoto, he earned his degree of mastery, along with his name, “Kaizan”, which means ‘ocean mountain’ in Japanese.

From there, he moved to Tokyo and quickly became known as the rising star of the shakuhachi world, where he encountered much praise but also occasional criticism. Through 46 years of steadfast dedication to the shakuhachi and 23 albums encompassing different styles of music including jazz, classical, traditional Japanese, and world fusion, John has become one of the top masters of the instrument and a world class musician. He continues to live in Chiba, Japan where he composes music and crafts the shakuhachi, among other experimental bamboo instruments. While he lives and breathes music, he is also an avid mountain climber, surfer, punster, grandfather of two and occasional skateboarder – as he says at his ripe age of 65, “it’s all downhill from here… so pass me a skateboard!”