REVIEW: ‘On-Gaku: Our Sound’ Is an Oddball Comedy That Hardly Misses a Beat

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On-Gaku: Our Sound

Sometimes, all you want out of a film is pure enjoyment from start to finish. That is exactly what director Kenji Iwaisawa delivers with On-Gaku: Our Sound. The film, adapted from a manga by Hiroyuki Ohashi, follows a trio of high school delinquents as they decide on a whim to start a band. It is 70 minutes of consistent laughter and impressive animation. If you go into it with expectations, they will likely be broken.

The story is simple enough: Kenji (Japanese alt-rock legend Shintaro Sakamoto) is a feared high school student who gets into fights out of boredom. He is fabled to possess the Spaghetti Fist and plays video games in an empty room at school instead of going to class. His friends Ota (Tomoya Maeno) and Asakura (Tateto Serizawa) keep him company, equally bored. As Kenji is walking one day, a man asks him to hold his bass guitar while chasing down a purse snatcher. Kenji takes the guitar home instead and the next day tells his friends he wants to form a band. Some incomplete equipment gets lifted from the band room, and the three begin their quest for musical glory. Spoiler: they have no idea what they are doing and comically strum the same notes every time. The trio even meets another band at school, and they get recruited into playing at a rock festival. But someone should warn Kenji that a rival gang is hunting him down.

On-Gaku: Our Sound doesn’t try to hide anything. The film doesn’t ask viewers to dissect layers of subtext. The characters speak plainly. Everything is blunt. What makes this work phenomenally well is the deadpan delivery. Cameras cut at the perfect time; characters sit in uncomfortable silence until JUST the right moment. This is a film that is confident in its mastery of comedic timing, and it shows. It is hard not to laugh when the camera holds steady on Kenji’s unblinking face, waiting for him to speak.

Speaking of silence, it is utilized heavily in On-Gaku: Our Sound. Music and movement are tied together heavily in the animation, therefore the latter is also key. Stillness and silence are prominent, often when the deadpan humor is at its peak. Paired with the sketch-like movement lines during a musical number, the soundscape is a rollercoaster for viewers.

The animation in On-Gaku: Our Sound deserves special consideration too. Working on the film for seven and a half years, it is animated almost entirely by director Kenji Iwaisawa, with a small team’s assistance, and utilizes rotoscoping to give it a unique look and fluidity. This effort succeeds. The animation is mesmerizing, especially when paired with beautifully painted watercolor backgrounds. Shapes are prominent. Characters’ eyes and heads consist of either smooth ovals or rectangular edges. Some even have triangular mohawks that tower above the camera. Let’s not forget the many comically artistic nods to The Beatles in scenes and some character designs. When there is high movement, the animation shifts into what looks like an abstract pencil sketch, moving with the music. This film is a blend of audio and visual art, which is, of course, what a film should be, but it is on full display here.

This film feels near perfect. I enjoyed myself consistently through the 70-minute run time, except for one specific scene. Aya (Ren Komai), Kenji’s friend, is an endearing girl who isn’t afraid to call out the boys when they are being ridiculous. It is clear she and Kenji have a back and forth, and there is something more there. However, this gets exacerbated in the wrong way during a confrontation between the two in the film’s back half. After yelling at Kenji, Aya turns and walks away. Kenji chases after her, as though he is going to reach for her hand to stop her. This is the one time the film subverts expectations in the wrong way. Kenji grabs Aya’s butt. She immediately turns around, punches him dead-on in the face (which was incredibly satisfying), and walks away. However, it just wasn’t funny. Sexual assault and harassment aren’t funny. It is clear the film is constantly trying to catch its audience off guard with its wacky, absurd humor, and this was another attempt at that. However, On-Gaku: Our Sound consistently proves that it is clever enough to reach above the low hanging fruit. Simple humor doesn’t have to be outdated.

At the end of the day, if you are looking for something different that will consistently make you laugh, On-Gaku: Our Sound is not to be missed. It won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but it is a cup that is full to the brim. On point, deadpan humor and absurd plot moments that keep breaking expectations will have audiences cheering by the end. It is a clever nod filled with love for music. Director Iwaisawa’s work on the animation is impressive. Its only negative is a small scene that went for the easy “joke” and briefly made light of sexual harassment.

On-Gaku: Our Sound is playing in select theaters on December 11th, 2020.

On-Gaku: Our Sound
  • 9/10
    Rating - 9/10
9/10

TL;DR

At the end of the day, if you are looking for something different that will consistently make you laugh, On-Gaku: Our Sound is not to be missed. It won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but it is a cup that is full to the brim. On point, deadpan humor and absurd plot moments that keep breaking expectations will have audiences cheering by the end.