The composers of ‘Oni’ celebrate Japanese culture with taiko and folk songs

By | October 24, 2022

For composers Zach Johnston and Matthew Roberts, music is never meant to be in the context of storytelling.

The duo, collectively known as Pep Magic, are behind the score for Netflix’s new animated series “Oni: Thunder God’s Tale.” Based on Japanese folklore, it follows the story of Onari, a free soul who lives among gods and mythical creatures on Mount Kimigami. This includes her father, Naridon, who uses his thunder power with a taiko (“drum” in Japanese).

Johnston and Roberts collaborated with creator-director Daisuke “Dice” Tsusumi in the early stages of “Oni,” allowing the music and visual concepts to reinforce and enhance each other.

“I think of visual images in music as strangely as possible, so I need their help to write a story or make a painting,” says Tsusumi. DifferenceHighlighting how Johnston and Roberts are as much filmmakers as composers.

The duo weave traditional Japanese instruments with modern synths to create a culture-driven effect.

“Our number one concern going into it is I want to make sure we’re respectful of Japanese music, but I want to make it our own,” Johnston said.

Pep Magic is a long-time collaboration between Tonko House founders Tsusumi and Robert Kondo, who first founded the animation studio in 2011. In 2014, they scored the Oscar-nominated short “The Dam Keeper.”

With Tsutsumi’s support and guidance, they felt comfortable enough to explore the mythical world of the “Oni” through music, spending countless hours exploring the art of taiko drumming and traditional Japanese balance. Tsutsumi provides some personal reference material to the traditional songs and chants he learned as a child in Japan.

“I think when they come back with their approach and solution that they understand – they often feel real,” Tsusumi said. “The reason I’m able to say that is because it always makes me nostalgic when I hear the music they created for this series.

The score features renowned Japanese flute player Kei Sakamoto and taiko player Shuichi Hidano. These musicians were recorded live in Japan, with Johnston, Roberts and Tsutsumi overseeing the production remotely from California. For Tsutsumi, it was crucial to involve countless Japanese artists for the animated epic.

“We were still lucky to be able to talk to them and give them feedback after every take,” Johnston said of the musicians. [thing]He said.

“Obviously the ideas were there, but they elevated that with a deeper understanding and experience of that music,” Roberts adds.

From Shakuhachi to Shinobus, Sakamoto tried more than 40 Japanese flutes for the score, only 10 of which were included in the final recording. If she missed an octave from the traditional shinobue, she would make herself a custom instrument to complete the melodic phrase.

“She brought so much emotion to the pieces, I think we were all trying not to cry the moment she started playing,” Roberts said. The taiko and flute brought a lot of humanity and warmth to the score.

Finally, the harmony between the score and the visuals was crucial to show the wonderful elements and mystery of the Oni, from the landscape of Mount Kamigami to its inhabitants.

“I really enjoy seeing the themes change as the characters grow – it’s very interesting and very emotional,” says Johnston. “I feel like we’ve spent two years with these characters, so the theme is burned into our minds.”

“They are storytellers,” Tsusumi added. “What I worry about as a director is, emotionally, it has to be honest — in the scene, to the characters. They always put the mood of the show first, and in my opinion that’s what makes these two guys such amazing composers.

Below, Tonko House has shared a clip of “Mother Nature’s Rhythm” from “Oni: Thunder God’s Tale,” now streaming on Netflix.

Category: tv

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