To most people outside of Japan who aren’t familiar with the world of anime, Studio Ghibli and all its various titles might be one’s only introduction to this wonderful genre of film.
While I can’t fault you for thinking that since Ghibli does release some fantastic films, some even nominated for an Oscar, it would be a shame to not give the same spotlight to the indie titles that are just as deserving of international praise.
One such anime that is currently an undiscovered gem amongst avid anime watchers and non-anime watchers alike is definitely the 2020 release titled, On-Gaku (Our Sound).
Based on the self-published manga of the same name by Hiroyuki Oohashi, On-Gaku was derived from the manga artist’s own experience with playing in a band and participating in a music festival. From there, he created a story centred around 3 delinquent punks who have no musical experience but decide to start a rock band either way.
While the manga was uniquely drawn and received a decent following, director and animator, Kenji Iwaisawa, catapulted the source material to new heights by transforming it into an anime. Not only did he preserve the integrity of the manga by keeping the original art style, but he elevated it by introducing several of his own.
Injecting freshly composed music from musicians he respected, the pulse and driving force of the film is definitely the progressive and neo-psychedelic rock that sets the tone for the wacky and offbeat humour that unfolds.
A tribute to the transcendent powers of music, On-Gaku features an off-kilter but very fitting soundtrack and score from artists like the dresscodes, GALAXIEDEAD and OSHIRIPENPENZ that complements the quirky art style, bringing the story to life in the most vibrant way.
Essentially, the anime centres around Kenji, an infamous gangster who finds every excuse to light a cigarette, and his two friends Ota and Asakura. After witnessing a mugging on the streets, Kenji obtains (re: steals) a bass guitar from one of the passers-by and brings it home. Suddenly struck by inspiration, he decides to start a band with his two friends despite not knowing a thing about instruments.
With two bass guitars and a drum with no percussions, the three jam and come across their own unique sound, which happens to be the rudimentary melody of the same chords, strum patterns and drum progressions. However, the throbbing of Kenji and Ota’s bass and the pulse of Asakura’s drums emit an anarchic energy that mimics many progressive rock and punk bands that we know today.
Befriending another group of musicians by chance, Kenji’s band ‘Kobujutsu’ joins forces with Morita’s (a Lennon-type character) indie-folk ‘Kobijutsu’ as they help one another to prepare for an upcoming music festival. While this is all happening, Kenji’s gangster past catches up with him as a group of skinheads hunt him down in order to show him who’s boss.
Check out the trailer:
Abundant with music references (the King Crimson ode blew my mind) that will make you point at the screen and say “Hey, I recognise that!”, the creative minds behind On-Gaku definitely know what they’re talking about when it comes to progressive rock, punk, and psychedelics.
Many reviewers have attributed the film’s sound to artistes like Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Mike Oldfield, Faust, Velvet Underground and for modern flavour, King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard and King Krule.
The climax of the movie, which takes place at a music festival, was definitely the cherry on top of an already impressively animated film with not only original sonic sequences but also some of the most visceral animation I’ve seen in a while and it’s all thanks to Iwaisawa.
In an interview with Cartoon Brew, Iwaisawa disclosed that the film took him 7 years to make with close to no budget. The film was funded through his own pocket money, donations from close friends as well as crowdfunding through merch. To top it all off, Iwaisawa had no experience with anime and film and neither did his team of 20 animators, whom he found online.
Despite the impeccable quality, the film costs only one-tenth of an average anime movie.
While solely working on On-Gaku, Iwaisawa had to pick up odd jobs in order to scrape by. Factor in the fact that the film integrates rotoscoping, which is one of the hardest techniques in animation, the hours put into the film were definitely arduous.
However, when you watch the end product, which is an avant-garde, kaleidoscopic absurdist comedy that’s also reminiscent of Crows Zero with its portrayal of gangster underdogs, all that blood, sweat and tears poured into the 40,000 hand-drawn frames from Iwaisawa and his tight-knit team was definitely worthwhile.
An ambitious anime that deserves more attention and praise, I can say with utmost confidence that On-Gaku will be cemented as a cult-classic in the future but for now, you have the chance to catch it before the hype-train leaves the station!
To watch more of Iwaisawa’s work, click here.