With Inu-Oh, the ecstatic, rebellious rock opera, anime's wildest creator is back

With Inu-Oh, the ecstatic, rebellious rock opera, anime's wildest creator is back ...

Masaaki Yuasas's animated films are funny because they start by looking backward. The first minute of Inu-Oh begins in the modern day, then continues hundreds of years later in one spot, with buildings unraveling themselves before viewers' eyes.

Yuasa has done musical sequences before: a psychosexual hallucination in Mind Game, an extended theatrical farce in The Night Is Short, and a glimpse back at a lost loved one in Ride Your Wave. However, Inu-Oh still feels fresh and inventive as it focuses the filmmakers' quirks into an electrifying revisionist history that is both joyful and tragic at the same time.

Following the devastating Genpei War of 11801185, the film is set in 14th-century Japan in the Muromachi period. The Ashikaga clan ruthlessly attempts to maintain its power, secretly suppressing its history.

Young Tomona, one of the films two leads, discovers an artifact that reacts violently to their presence. He soon discovers Inu-Oh, a child who was first shown eating with hounds, who is hidden behind a gourd mask. Inu-Oh is portrayed as a social outcast who was erased from history.

The first interaction between Tomona and Inu-Oh is immediately meaningful because of the way Yuasa uses subjective perspectives. Their contrasting cameras project their points of view across the streets and across rooftops, to onlookers' dismay. Its a parody of giganticity as he reconciles himself to his ostracization by leaning toward alienating behavior. Tomona is more serene. His adaptation to the loss of his vision is shown in wide, oily paint brushstrokes.

Even amid the euphoria of the film's soundtrack, it's a good example of the power of visual storytelling in play. Tomona adopts some of Inu-Oh's wildness, while Inu-Oh picks up Tomona's warmth. Biwa priests of the time performed stories of the Heike, but together, they reinvent and reinvigorate this trend.

The people go wild, and the authorities become suspicious, especially when the music starts spreading the history that the government has deliberately suppressed. But Inu-Oh also revels in the liberation of pure performance.

Yuasa is well-known for his thrilling rubber-band maneuverability, and the way he frees traditional Japanese entertainment from the constraints of tradition. Inu-Oh contrasts Noh theater with a more contemporary feel of pop culture: one song, named Dragon Commander, echoes the fastfire lyrics and borrowed operatic harmonies of Bohemian Rhapsody.

The musical sequences in the movies are akin to contemporary shows, with light shows, crowd participation, and even black-clad security guards, as instrumentalist and turntablist Yoshihide Otomo injects electronic tones into feudal surroundings.

Inu-Oh and Tomona reinvent themselves into Noh theater rock stars as they shave their biwa behind his back or with his teeth like Jimi Hendrix. Later, he wows crowds and confuses governors as they dance through a Soul Train line.

Yuasa delights in Inu-Oh's atypical physicality, impossible dance moves, and angelic voice, but he also becomes so involved in the technical logistics and effects work of the concerts that the mechanics feel completely real. Its a truly remarkable illusory effect that gives the film that extra bit of immersion.

Yuasa constructs the film using mixed media, exploring spaces with 3D CG animation or more tactile, painterly imagery. There are some slasher-type horror interludes as a mysterious figure stalks and murders roaming biwa priests, and even an out-of-body experience that will evoke memories of 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Inu-Oh's intimate relationship with Tomona's exploration of xenophobia gets pushback to match Devilman Crybaby's fluid gender performance, which is as synergetic as ever with Yuasas's sensibilities from their previous collaboration on Ping Pong: The Animation). The stylization emphasizes beauty, as Tomona now Tomoari is a sex symbol for braying crowds.

Inu-Oh portrays the lives of two musicians who are also witnesses to a hidden history, and the film has an elegiac quality. Though Yuasa pits art against an oppressive government, the film isnt naive about the upper limits of such outspokenness. Historys branches are harshly closed off by people who want to remake the finished product.

On August 12, Inu-Oh will be released in American cinemas.