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In search of light

Nippon Connection


Shiver (2021, Toshiaki Toyoda)

On-Gaku: Our Sound (2019, Kenji Iwaisawa)


While many of the feature films display a dark manner in this edition of Nippon Connection, this musically themed pair of titles have produced some measure of comfort. Both undeniably distance themselves from directly engaging with any social issue and focus instead more purely on the form. In the case of Shiver, it centers on the taiko performance and the coordination of the performance, the visual effect, and the environment; On-Gaku’s animation drawing style radiates a wonderful quirkiness.


Toyoda’s 89-minute Shiver was commissioned to depict the collaboration between taiko drumming troupe Kodo and composer Koshiro Hino for the troupe’s fortieth anniversary. Through a considerable number of fixed shots and steady camera work, it renders a grand and solemn style similar to Wolf’s Calling, showing Kodo’s extraordinary performance through paintings of minimalist composition. Shot between the mountains and shores of Sado Island in the eastern part of the Sea of Japan, the rhythm of various percussion instruments is in perfect harmony with the music and score of nature. The performance embodies intensely those qualities of traditional Japanese culture, focused and powerful, moving from tradition to contemporaneity without a glitch, as Butoh is able to achieve. Produced during the COVID-19 pandemic and released online, it brings relief and pleasure to people suffering from isolation, making it feasible to forget this plight for a short while, along with all that may ail them.

The other impressive title using the power of music is Kenji Iwaisawa’s animation debut feature On-Gaku. The film is short and endearing, adapted from the manga of the same name by Hiroyuki Ohashi. The story is about a delinquent high school student with no musical background who starts a rock band that includes two bass players and a drummer, an idea that comes to him in a flash. Familiar topics like youthful fervor, struggle, and young love are not missing, but are quickly skimmed over. Most of the story is devoted to the overwhelming sensations brought by music which can be felt even without professional training and practice, as well as slow-paced, offbeat scenes of unconnected daily life. The hand-drawn animation displays a rather sloppy style, in contrast to the sophistication that the professional animation industry is usually recognized for . However, this eccentric scribble becomes the strength of the film, together with the excellent music and subtle editing, presenting a heterogeneous work with a unique personality — combining familiar motifs and a rebellious interpretation of them. It is simple yet sincere, firmly saying no to repetition and clichés.

On-Gaku: Our Sound (2019, Kenji Iwaisawa)

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