Masaaki Yuasa Delivers Epic Noh Musical

As a Canadian, I find places with a long history incredibly interesting. My country is quite young compared to a place like Japan, so I consider the history of such a place fascinating. The last film of the legendary Masaaki Yuasa, Inu-Oh, presents the Muromachi era as a colorful and intriguing era, which was enough to pique my historical interest. The film revolves around two outcasts of 14th-century Japan who set the nation ablaze with their incredible talent, presented as a riveting rock opera. It’s a lot to take in, but once in sync with the flow of the film, I couldn’t pull myself away.

A good amount of information is passed on to the audience from the start, which makes sense considering that Inu-Oh is an adaptation of Hideo Furukawa Tales of the Heike: Inu-Oh novel. There’s a lot of context to establish, which makes the beginning of the film feel a little dense. Once you know the backstory, however, the movie picks up and doesn’t end. I found myself completely drawn into the 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 ups and downs that life has clearly always been full of.

RELATED: Interview: Masaaki Yuasa on the music of Inu-Oh and the Venice Film Festival

As you would expect from a Masaaki Yuasa production (especially when looking at past works like crybaby devilman), each frame of Inu-Oh is wonderful. There’s an endless amount of vibrant color throughout the musical stages, amplifying wild musical performances with outlandish visuals that look like a combination of a modern concert with a beautiful noh performance. I can’t imagine how difficult it was to mix these elements together so well, but the animators all pulled it off with grace.

Speaking of music, Inu-OhThe songs are incredibly catchy. The fusion of rock with more traditional biwa music is inspirational and leads to a lot of tapping throughout the film. The subtitled lyrics give you the context you might be missing as an English speaker, but even without that, the passionate delivery of the lyrics and the relentless flavor of each song will amaze you on their own. I had no knowledge of Heike samurai before watching Inu-Ohbut the style with which their stories were presented made me want to do additional research on their history, a sign of an excellent presentation of historical elements.

The vocal performances are also excellent, with Avu-chan of Queen Bee fame giving Inu-Oh plenty of likable personality right off the bat. You feel bad for Inu-Oh while respecting his carefree lifestyle, making it hard not to cheer on the dancer. Mirai Moriyama also gives a passionate and artistic performance as Tomona, delivering what could have been a straightforward main character with notable characteristics and a few memorable moments. Truly, the entire cast deserves praise, from the snobbish shōgun to the cheering crowds. There wasn’t a moment that felt lifeless or uninspired, thanks in large part to the brilliance of these performances.

If you can master all the information presented to you at the beginning, Inu-Oh is a truly unique and memorable ride that just might interest you in the Muromachi period. It’s an engrossing, beautiful, and somewhat sentimental journey through a time I knew nothing about, filled with music that will have you nodding whether you speak the language or not. Yuasa and his team had another great and entertaining experience, and I can’t wait to see what they do next.

SCORE: 8.5/10

As ComingSoon’s review policy explains, a score of 8.5 equals “Excellent”. While there are a few minor issues, this score means the art hits its mark and leaves a memorable impact.

Disclosure: The publisher provided a selection link for ComingSoon’s Inu-Oh exam.