Aside from the storytelling the duo known as Pep Magic is behind the score of Netflix’s new animated series “Oni: Thunder God’s Tale.” It is based on Japanese mythology, the tale follows Onari who is a spirited young woman living in the midst of gods and mythological creatures of Mount Kamigami. That includes her father Naridon who wields his mighty power via his the taiko (Japanese word for “drum”). Johnston as well as Roberts were in collaboration with the creator and director Daisuke “Dice” Tsutsumi in the early stages of “Oni,” allowing music and visual concepts to directly help and enrich one another.
Tsutsumi tells Variety that pictures can be considered like music. She also stresses the aspect that Roberts as well as Johnston also have a role as filmmakers and composers. The two mix traditional Japanese instruments along with contemporary synths , creating a nuanced and a distinctly culturally-driven score. “Our first priority going into the process is to ensure that we respect the tradition of Japanese music, but also adapt it to our tastes,” says Johnston. Pep Magic are longtime collaborators of Tonko House co-founders Tsutsumi and Robert Kondo, first scoring the animated.
Tsutsumi offered support and direction for composers and allowed them to explore Oni’s mythology through music. They took their time studying traditional Japanese scales, taiko drumming and other instruments, and spending hours learning about the art of drumming. Tsutsumi was also able to provide the composers personal reference information in the form folk songs and chants he learned as a child in Japan. Tsutsumi states “When they come back using an instinctive approach and a solution – oftentimes it feels real.” It is because I am at peace with their tunes.
Johnston says the importance of the inclusion of Tsutsumi’s Japanese performers in the animated epic. Johnston spoke about musicians “We were still fortunate to work with and give them feedback every take.” “But it was incredible for us to simply walk away on certain takes and let them just do their own thing.
Roberts says, “She brought such emotion to her music that I thought we were all trying to not be tearful when she first started her playing.” Both flutes and Taiko added warmth and authenticity for the tune.
The score and visuals played a key role in showing the incredible elements and the mystery of “Oni,” from the landscape of Mount Kamigami to its inhabitants. “I love watching themes develop as the characters grow – it’s rewarding and really emotional,” says Johnston. “I feel like we spent an entire two years with these characters, so themes are ingrained in our brains.” “They’re storytellers,” Tsutsumi adds. “What I am concerned about as a filmmaker is emotionally. It has to be real – and in the sceneand to the characters. They always prioritize the emotion of the scene, which is what I react to when I am an audience member.
What we can learn
Roberts is clearly a fan of flute and taiko. She believes that they can bring the emotion of music and humanity. They also work effectively together, making an intimate and powerful sound.