On-Gaku: Our Sound

Movie review by
Sandie Angulo Chen, Common Sense Media
On-Gaku: Our Sound Movie Poster Image
Entertaining band-themed indie anime has language, smoking.
  • NR
  • 2020
  • 71 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Promotes transformational power of music and importance of encouragement and friendship.

Positive Role Models

Although the boys aren't really role models (they skip school, make other iffy choices), at least Aya tries to keep them in line and warn them of impending danger or conflicts. Their new friend Morita shares his love of music with them. Film is set in Japan, features all Japanese characters.

Violence

A woman is mugged, and a man comes to her rescue, detaining the mugger until the police arrive. Kenji and his friends are involved in a few fights or near-fights with other teens. Kenji tries to touch Aya's butt, but she gets upset and strikes him; he falls.

Sex

Kenji looks longingly at Aya.

Language

Occasional strong language includes "s--t," "bulls--t," "bloody selfish," "piece of s--t," "thief."

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Main character smokes cigarettes frequently.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that On-Gaku: Our Sound is an animated Japanese film about three high school "delinquents" who start a band with stolen instruments even though they don't know anything about music. The story comically depicts how the cigarette-smoking, school-skipping Kenji (voiced by real-life Japanese rocker Shintaro Sakamoto) and his two best friends manage to create the band and intimidate their rivals from another high school. Expect occasional cursing (mostly variations on "s--t") and violence (fistfights and martial arts fights, as well as a girl knocking a boy down after he touches her without consent). The movie's many references to real bands and styles of music should entertain older viewers.  

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What's the story?

ON-GAKU: OUR SOUND is a Japanese anime film about three high school burnouts who spend more time playing video games, smoking cigarettes, and intimidating their rivals than actually going to school. Quietly imposing Kenji (voiced by real-life Japanese rocker Shintaro Sakamoto) is feared by his classmates and rumored to be a master of the Spaghetti Fist form of kenpō; he shows up for fights but scares most of his opponents before he actually has to do damage. He and his two best friends, Asakura (Tateto Serizawa) and Ota (Tomoya Maeno), are called "The Three Musketeers." One day a Good Samaritan asks Kenji to hold his bass guitar so the stranger can run after a mugger -- but instead of waiting for the man to return, Kenji keeps the guitar and decides that he and his pals should start a band by stealing instruments from the school's music room. With zero experience or understanding of the foundations of music, the trio comically jams without any purpose other than to impress their only other friend, Aya (Ren Komai). Kenji demands that another band from school play for them, and the musically trained front man of that band, Morita (Kami Hiraiwa), invites the newbies to enter a local rock festival. Meanwhile, a rival gang sick of Kenji's status is trying to track them down for an old-fashioned rumble.

Is it any good?

With its line-drawing-style animation and minimalist storyline, this is a rare anime film without sci-fi/fantasy elements or romantic themes. It's just three slackers starting a rock band. Audiences in the know will delight in the fact that Sakamoto, a famous Japanese rock musician and music producer, voices the quietly intense Kenji. And music lovers, particularly adults, will enjoy the rock influences and references in the movie, which range from the Beatles (the Abbey Road moment is even in the promotional photos) and Dylan to Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young-style folk to Jimi Hendrix and Pete Townsend smashing their guitars.

Although the movie is about the so-called Three Musketeers, it's their two friends who imbue the story with true soul. Aya seems to actually care about the boys, and Morita sweetly wants to encourage their musicianship and share his love of existing bands with them. Not much happens in the movie (the rival gang pops up every now and then to add some mild suspense), which might be difficult for viewers used to more sweeping, epic anime adventures, romances, and fantasies. But the simplicity of it all is a big part of On-Gaku's charm, and the music is pitch-perfect (even when it's just noise) for the story.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the language and violence in On-Gaku. Are they necessary to the story? What are the consequences of The Three Musketeers' actions?

  • How does the movie depict smoking? Is it more noticeable than in other films? Do you think audiences from different countries/cultures have different tolerance levels for smoking depictions?

  • Do you consider anyone in the movie a role model? Do movies, TV shows, books, and other popular media have a responsibility to include inspirational and aspirational characters? What character strengths are on display here?

  • Do you prefer anime that's based in sci-fi/fantasy or contemporary realistic anime? How does this film compare to other Japanese anime you've seen?

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