Kenji is a deadpan, lethargic high school boy who hangs out with his friends, plays video games, and has bullies in his life. He barely talks sometimes, and he’ll just stare for long segments without expression. At first it’s a little odd. Then you realize it’s just Kenji. On-Gaku: Our Sound is a movie that says a lot while saying very little, and its gradual, slow pace builds up until you realize you’re into these characters — even the dry Kenji — and they’re relatable as much as they are odd.
One day, after watching a musician help a woman on the street, Kenji goes to his equally “loser” friends and announces, “Let’s start a band.” And so they do — because why not? Why should it matter that they’re not very good, or they don’t have a background in music? But the movie goes with the fact they’re so clueless and makes it part of the story’s charm.
Music is the basis of this movie, rocking us through scenes. At the same time, it’s a movie that holds long silences for the characters, offering stretches without any dialogue. Some of the most amazing animation in On-Gaku is when music is playing, because the animation will completely change — sometimes getting really wild and colorful — to match with the music. The movie was mostly animated by Kenji Iwaisawa, who was also the director, and it’s incredible to think about the amount of love and devotion that would go into making a movie like this.
On-Gaku has some very hilarious moments, especially as it builds up and you get to know characters. It’s really quirky and different, not following the usual formulas in movie storytelling. It has a niche feel to it. All told it’s only an hour and eleven minutes long, and it’s one of those movies that benefit from a second watch-through, because you’ll catch on to things you might not have noticed the first time around, especially in those slow moments. On-Gaku is nominated for an Annie Award for Best Indie Feature and has been doing well in the film festival scene.
Danica Davidson is the author of the bestselling Manga Art for Beginners with artist Melanie Westin, and its sequel, Manga Art for Intermediates, with professional Japanese mangaka Rena Saiya. Check out her other comics and books at www.danicadavidson.com.