Movies

‘On-Gaku: Our Sound’ Review: They Will Rock You

Rock ’n’ roll is here to stay, and so is “On-Gaku: Our Sound,” a quirky homage to classic animation and 1960s-70s rock with an idiosyncratic style and the thrumming heart of a musician.

In the film, directed by Kenji Iwaisawa, three high school friends with nothing better to do than play video games and ambivalently pick fights with a rival gang impulsively decide to start a band. The friends end up performing in a local music festival — despite their utter lack of musical knowledge. Narratively that’s the extent of it, but “On-Gaku” is a subdued filmmaking experiment, with the visuals and sounds of the movie positioned in the forefront of our attention. No worries, just good vibes.

In a world of C.G.I.-everything, “On-Gaku” comes as a refreshing blast from the past; the film, full of soft, streamlined animation, took more than seven years to produce with over 40,000 hand-drawn frames. Allusions to the wonder years of rock abound (music is by Tomohiko Banse), from the black bowl cuts of the Beatles and the famous crossing of Abbey Road to the more rebellious shaggy-haired style of the Rolling Stones.

Expertly atmospheric, the brief film (71 minutes, not one minute too long) includes the sounds of gentle folk and smooth, lengthy sequences of, say, the friends simply walking down the street to a funky bass line. Other scenes erupt with the cacophonous crash and bash of an arena performance, as Iwaisawa uses the process of rotoscoping, tracing over real movie footage to animate the characters’ movements.

This offbeat jam session is also peculiarly funny; the deadpan absurdism of the writing is accentuated by Iwaisawa’s bold direction, which uses long periods of stillness and silence and odd shifts in action. The guys in “On-Gaku” may be new to the stage, but this droll musical comedy tops the charts.

On-Gaku: Our Sound
Not rated. In Japanese, with subtitles. Running time: 1 hour 11 minutes. Rent or buy on Apple TV, FandangoNow and other streaming platforms and pay TV operators.

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