As a Canadian, I find places with long histories to be incredibly interesting. My country is fairly young compared to a place like Japan, so I see the history of such a place as fascinating. The legendary Masaaki Yuasa‘s latest film, Inu-Oh, presents the Muromachi era as a colorful and intriguing time, which was enough to pique my historical interest. The film revolves around two outcasts in 14th century Japan who light the nation ablaze with their incredible talent, presented as a riveting rock opera. It’s a lot to take in, but once I synced with the film’s flow, I was unable to pull myself away.
A fair amount of information is dropped on the audience right off the bat, which makes sense when you consider that Inu-Oh is an adaptation of Hideo Furukawa’s Tales of the Heike: Inu-Oh novel. There’s a lot of context to establish, which makes the beginning of the film a bit dense. Once you know the backstory, however, the movie picks up and doesn’t stop. I found myself completely drawn into the unfolding story of Tomona the blind biwa player and the titular Inu-Oh, a deformed young man who can dance like nobody’s business. Their rise to stardom and all the intricacies that come with it truly felt like a journey, filled with the bittersweet highs and lows that life has clearly always been full of.
RELATED: Interview: Masaaki Yuasa on Inu-Oh’s Music & the Venice Film Festival
As you might expect from a Masaaki Yuasa production (especially when looking at past works like Devilman Crybaby), every frame of Inu-Oh is gorgeous. There’s an endless amount of lively color throughout the musical scenes, amplifying the wild musical performances with extravagant visuals that feel like a combination of a modern concert with a beautiful noh performance. I can’t imagine how difficult it was to blend these elements in such a satisfying way, but the animators all pulled it off with grace.
Speaking of music, Inu-Oh‘s songs are shockingly catchy. The fusion of rock with more traditional biwa music is inspired and leads to a good deal of toe-tapping throughout the film’s runtime. The subtitled lyrics give you the context you might be missing as an English speaker, but even without that, the impassioned delivery of the lyrics and unrelenting flavor of each song will surprisingly move you on their own. I had no knowledge of the Heike samurai prior to watching Inu-Oh, but the style with which their stories were presented had me interested in doing supplementary research into their history — the mark of an excellent presentation of historical elements.
The vocal performances are similarly excellent, with Avu-chan of Queen Bee fame giving Inu-Oh plenty of likable personality right from the get-go. You feel bad for Inu-Oh while simultaneously respecting his happy-go-lucky lifestyle, making it hard not to root for the dancer. Mirai Moriyama also gives a passionate and artistic performance as Tomona, providing what could have been a straightforward main character with notable characteristics and a few memorable moments. Really, the whole cast deserves praise, from the snobby shōgun to the cheering crowds. There’s not a moment that felt lifeless or uninspired, largely thanks to how brilliant these performances are.
If you can get a handle on all the information you’re presented with at the beginning, Inu-Oh is a truly unique and memorable ride that may just get you interested in the Muromachi period. It’s a riveting, gorgeous, and somewhat sentimental journey through a time that I knew nothing about, filled with music that will get your head nodding regardless of if you speak the language. Yuasa and his team have made another excellent and entertaining experience, and I can’t wait to see what they do next.
As ComingSoon’s review policy explains, a score of 8.5 equates to “Great.” While there are a few minor issues, this score means that the art succeeds at its goal and leaves a memorable impact.
Disclosure: The publisher provided a screener link for ComingSoon’s Inu-Oh review.