This year’s online-only edition of Japan Cuts has officially commenced... and honestly, it’s sort of a mixed blessing. On the one hand, the digital format makes the festival more accessible to the public than ever before; on the other, it is now entirely self-catered, and I am terribly indecisive. After hours of careful deliberation, I reached the conclusion that it would be best to ease myself into the experience, rather than immediately diving into the deep end (“the deep end” being Nobuhiko Obayashi’s Labyrinth of Cinema, which I’ll get around to watching eventually). On-Gaku: Our Sound—an animated slacker comedy featuring a minimalistic narrative, a deceptively simple visual style, and a lean 70-minute running time—seemed to be the most logical choice.
The plot revolves around three juvenile delinquents that spontaneously form a rock band (using whatever equipment they're able to pilfer from their school’s music club—which amounts to two bass guitars and roughly one-third of a drum set) after becoming bored with their usual routine of beating up rival gangs. And… well, that’s pretty much it. Director Kenji Iwaisawa is less interested in telling a traditional story than he is in creating an idiosyncratic mood; fortunately, he excels at drawing the viewer into his meticulously handcrafted setting. While our protagonists’ “songs” certainly lack technical polish, they’re also undeniably sincere; they play straight from the heart, channeling their previously repressed volatile emotions into a relentlessly aggressive beat. Their distinctively primal and passionate sound ignites the imagination of all who hear it, flinging the audience into vibrantly realized mixed-media landscapes (rendered in everything from rough pencil sketches to lush watercolor paintings) that evoke the kind of imagery typically found on album covers—a brilliantly beautiful illustration of the transportive and transformative power of art.
On-Gaku: Our Sound won’t appeal to everybody; the pace is intentionally languid, and the dry sense of humor may be an acquired taste. Personally, though, I feel that both of these elements lend the film a charmingly inviting atmosphere—it truly is the perfect “hang out” movie.