You can always count on Misaaki Yuasa (Mind Game, Night is Short Walk On Girl) to bring a wholly unique and gloriously manic cinema experience that is both a feast for the eyes and the soul. His latest film, Inu-Oh is absolutely no exception. At 98 minutes, Inu-Oh packs in everything you could ever want from a chaotic anime film. Japanese Folklore? Tick! Shakespearean family betrayal? Yes! Demonic curses? Yep! Glam Rock? Hell Yeah! Queer subtext? You betcha!
14th century feudal Japan; Inu-Oh (voiced by Avu-Chan, frontman of Japanese rock band Queen Bee) aspires to be a Noh performer. Cursed at birth and horribly disfigured, his ghastly appearance horrifies villagers and he is shunned as an outcast. One day he befriends Tomona, a blind biwa playing priest with his own tragic past and the two quickly form their own stage act to rival the Noh theatre. Performing gleefully anachronistic 80s style glam rock numbers telling the forgotten stories of fallen warriors, Inu-Oh and Tomona’s act grows stronger and more popular, much to the chagrin of the noh, the biwa priests and also the shogun.
Inu-Oh is Yuasa firing on all cylinders, crafting a hyper-stylised, hyperactive musical celebration of storytelling and self-expression. Ino-Oh and Tomona laugh in the face of convention with both their music and their increasingly androgynous appearances with each performance. Their radical and rebellious sentiment in a time and place so entrenched in tradition paired with Yuasa’s trademark psychedelic visuals are cleverly juxtaposed with character and production design that closely resembles traditional Japanese artworks. It’s a simple, clever dichotomy the films plays around with and executes it visually with such panache.
It should come as no surprise that a film about aspiring performers has some great music and unforgettable song numbers. When watching the film, it becomes very evident after the first musical sequence that these are what Yuasa is most interested where he can play around with the form as many scenes between set pieces are essentially just waiting until we get to the next song. But when Yuasa brings so much energy and vibrancy to these arguably overlong musical sequences, you surrender yourself to the spectacle. The music, the staging and the acrobatic movements of Inu-Oh are utterly mesmerising. A particular number involving a whale is a spectacular highlight in this regard.
Inu-Oh is a rambunctious, euphoric cinematic journey that inspires creativity, champions expressing one’s true self in the face of prejudice and emphatically preaches the importance of the art of storytelling.
Inu-Oh screened at the 2022 Sydney Film Festival. For More, head to sff.org.au
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