Traditional Japanese instruments meet modern synths in a culturally respectful score


Pep Magic, a duo which is well-known for their storytelling skills, composed the music to the animated Netflix series “Oni: Thunder God’s Tale”. The show is based on Japanese mythology, the tale unfolds around Onari an impulsive girl living in the midst of gods and mythological creatures on Mount Kamigami. The story also features her father, Naridon, who possesses his thunderous power through his taiko (Japanese for “drum”). Johnston as well as Roberts worked together with Daisuke Tsutsumi who is the founder of Oni. This allowed the visual and musical ideas to be a source of inspiration and enhance one another.

“We see visuals musically in an odd way and we require their help to even write the story of our dreams or to create paintings,” Tsutsumi tells Variety by demonstrating how Johnston as well as Roberts are as much filmmakers as composers. Both pair mix traditional Japanese instruments with modern synths , creating a nuanced musical score that is influenced by culture. “Our primary concern when we go into the process is to show respect of Japanese music, and yet adapt it to our tastes,” says Johnston. Pep Magic, long-time partners of Tonko House founders Tsutsumi & Robert Kondo who first scored the soundtrack for the film and are Pep Magic.

Tsutsumi offered support and direction to the composers. He allowed the composers to discover Oni’s mythology through music. They spent hours studying the old Japanese scales and taiko drumming while learning about the art of drumming. Tsutsumi has provided personal sources through folk songs and chants he studied from Japan as a child. “I believe when composers are back with their innate approach and a solution – typically, they feel real,” Tsutsumi says. The reason is that I’m in awe of their music.

It was vital for Tsutsumi to involve myriad Japanese artists in the production of the movie, Johnston says. Johnston stated about musicians “We had the privilege to be interactive and give them feedback every take.” It was great that the musicians were able to perform whatever they chose, however it was also very enjoyable to shoot some pictures and just allow them to have their way.

Roberts writes, “She brought such emotion to the piece that it was as if that we had all been trying not to get emotional when she started to play.” Both flutes and taiko brought warmth and humanity to the music.

The music and images were vital in conveying the mystery and magical elements of Oni, from Mount Kamigami’s surroundings to the people who live there. “I enjoy watching the themes change as the characters grow – it’s gratifying and it feels really emotionally,” says Johnston. “I feel like we spent more than two years with these characters, so they’re etched into our minds.” Tsutsumi states “They are storytellers.” “What I am concerned about as a director is, emotionally, the story has to be real – and in scenes, as well as to actors. As an individual who is an audience member, I’m attentive to the content that affects me emotionally in each scene.

What can we learn

It’s obvious there is no doubt that Roberts is a big fan of both the Taiko and the flute, and she believes that both instruments bring lots of emotion and humanity to the music. She also thinks they work perfectly together to create a warm and powerful sound.



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