Basically: A film that tells a story of Japan’s past using anachronistic uses of art to relate to our current times.
Masaaki Yuasa is back again on his current run of new anime work. Ever since Devilman Crybaby came out, Yuasa’s work has been out of the park—some of the best-animated media in TV and film, period. Here he and Akiko Nogi tackle a story set in 14th century Japan, during the Muromachi period, at the start of Noh dance and drama. The story is told through two characters. The first is Tomona (Mirai Moriyama), a young man who was blinded in an accident when he was a child. He leaves home, haunted by his father’s spirit, and ends up learning the Biwa from a group of monks. Singing the “Tale of the Heike” to honor and appease spirits on the losing side of a conflict puts him on the path of Inu-Oh (Avu-chan). Inu-Oh is a disabled young man who everyone treats as a monster. However, the two get along since Tomona treats Inu-Oh as a human, and they both love music and performing. With Inu-Oh dancing and Tomona playing Biwa, they hope to achieve their dreams. Inu-Oh wishes to take his dancing to all of Japan and to be accepted, Tomona wants to sing the stories of the past warriors.
Inu-Oh takes this story and builds it around something we’re pretty used to, a musical biopic. The character of Inu-Oh is based on a legendary musician while the use of music and performances reminds the viewer of amazing real-life performance set pieces. The animation in these parts is fantastic and impressive. The life in these drawings and the fluidity are captivating. The way classic instruments play these songs like pop rock stadium bangers. The use of color is used very interesting too. The creatives use stylized visuals to show how Tomona sees through sound, where the colors wash with brush strokes and bright beautiful tones. The performances’ palettes and the compositions of the images show that Yuasa and the filmmakers are pushing themselves with what they do with animation.
To be honest, the film started pretty slow and was losing my attention a bit. Yet, as it went on, Inu-Oh pulled me in more and more with the build to the climax and the way it wrapped up the mysteries from earlier in the story. The conflict between art, power, and history also comes to a head and does well to center the film on current happenings. I could see parallels between rap and rock music and their trials with the government. Finally, the film ends in a way that made me quite sad, yet it’s probably going to be one of the best films I’ll see all year.
In the End: Inu-Oh is a beautifully animated film that’s touching and rousing throughout from one of the best filmmakers today.