Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Sat Jul 25, 2020 7:48 pm 
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KENJI IWAISAWA: ON-GAKU: OUR SOUND (2019) - JAPAN CUTS 2020 (all online)


Noise rock

Kenji Iwaisawa's feature debut is an offbeat one-hour animated film that adapts Hiroyuki Ohashi's manga about some aimless high school delinquents who find, momentarily anyway, a sense of purpose in forming a three-man rock band. It's primal. He teases us with the minimalism of these guys who are ageless and almost faceless and are monosyllabic and sometimes just sit there silent. Kenji (voiced by former Yura Yura Teikoku frontman Shintaro Sakamoto) is the leader of sidekicks Ota (Tomoya Maeno) and Asakura (Tateto Serizawa). There are some skinheads who hate but fear Kenji. When they meet, it's at a "comic cafe."

They make a mistake, and wind up with two bass guitars, accompanied by drums. They do not know how to play. That has not gotten in the way of some rock bands. I am indebted to the enthusiastic review by James Hadfield in Japan Times ("an instant classic"; "seven years in the making") for details such as the explanation why the band's choice of name is a problem. They pick "Kobujutsu" (classical martial arts) and the school already has a "Kobijutsu" (classical arts). Kenji tries to stare down the leader of Kobijutsu and make her change their name.

The "music" of Kobujusu just sounds like noise. That is, the climactic concert. Morita (actress Kami Hiraiwa), the director of Kobijutsu, invites Kobujutsu to participate in what's reportedly one of the first rock festivals in Japan. They agree.

In the event, there are surprises, first of all in the instrument Kenji shows up with - and his showing up in itself is a surprise, since he has declared himself "bored" with the band after a preparatory recording playback on a tiny Walkman displeases himi, and walked away. Then, there is the participation of a musician from another band with much greater skill. The mix of odd, primal, and skillful makes for the kind of cosmic explosion that is needed to make this story turn from deadpan to almost exultant. Yes, this is an unusual film. Hadfield says it's all hand-drawn, a reason for the long time in preparation; also as he oints out there's some use of rotoscoping in the final performance sequence to make the moment come alive.

On-Gaku: Our Sound, 71 mins., debuted at Ottawa Oct. 2019; several other festivals. Limited theatrical release in Japan Jan. 2020. Secreened for this review as part of Japan Cuts, New York, July 2020.
The festival is entirely online this year. Anyone in the US can watch it, paying a small fee for each individual film, from July 17-30, 2020. Go HERE to access the films

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