Traditional Japanese instruments and modern synths come together to create an immersive and respectful experience of Japanese music.

As an afterthought in storytelling, the duo known as Pep Magic is behind the music of Netflix’s latest animated series “Oni: Thunder God’s Tale.” It is based upon Japanese folklore, the series follows Onari the free-spirited girl living in the midst of gods and mythological creatures of Mount Kamigami. Naridon’s father is in the area, and is able to wield the power of his the taiko (Japanese “drum”) Johnston and Roberts worked with director-creator Daisuke “Dice” Tsutsumi in the initial stages of “Oni,” allowing music and visual concepts to directly help and enrich one another.

“We see visuals musically, in a way that is a bit odd that’s why we’ll need their assistance to create an essay or create a painting,” Tsutsumi tells Variety, emphasizing how Johnston and Roberts are just as much filmmakers as composers. They have a blend of traditional Japanese instruments and contemporary synths in a culturally-driven score. Johnston states “Our top concern in the beginning was to keep in mind the tradition of Japanese music, but also take it to the next level and make it our own.” Pep Magic are longtime collaborators of Tonko House co-founders Tsutsumi and Robert Kondo, first scoring the film.

With the help and support of Tsutsumi and guidance, the composers felt secure enough to explore the mythological world of Oni through the medium of music. They also spent long hours researching the art of taiko drumming , as well as the traditional Japanese scales. Tsutsumi was also able to provide the composers with his personal reference material in the form of traditional songs and chants that the chants he learned when he was a child in Japan. “I believe that when they return with an intuitive strategy and solutions – frequently, it’s real,” Tsutsumi says. “And my reason for why I’m able say this is the fact that it makes me nostalgic whenever I listen to the melodies that they create.

It was important for Tsutsumi to involve myriad Japanese performers for their animated movie, Johnston says. Johnston stated about musicians “We are still blessed to work with and give them feedback every take.” It was nice for the musicians to be able to do what they want, but it was also very enjoyable to take some shots and let them enjoy themselves.

Roberts declares, “She brought such emotion to her music that I felt like we all tried to not cry when she began playing.” The flute as well as the Taiko brought warmth and humanity into the piece.

Music and visuals were crucial to convey the mysterious and fantastical elements of Oni the Mount Kamigami surroundings to the people who live there. Johnston states “I am fascinated by watching the stories evolve as the characters become more complex – it’s very gratifying and it feels so emotional.” “I feel like we spent two years in these characters, and themes have been ingrained into our brains.” Tsutsumi states “They are storytelling masters.” As a director, what I am most concerned about is that the stories are real. As an audience member, I pay attention to the emotion of every scene.

Everyone can learn from each other

It’s apparent the fact that Roberts is a huge fan of both the Taiko and the flute. She thinks they both bring lots of emotions and humanity to the music. Roberts is also of the opinion that they complement one another, creating an incredibly powerful and warm music.

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