Masaaki Yuasa's animated films are funny because the first minute of the film starts off in the modern day, rewinding hundreds of years in one spot, while buildings dismantle themselves in front of viewers eyes. Through all of the energy, Yuasa thinks about what has been lost as society's more powerful systems attempt to control how art is produced and distributed.
Yuasa has performed musical sequences before, including a psychosexual hallucination in Mind Game, a lengthy theatrical farce in The Night Is Short, and a look back at a lost loved one in Ride Your Wave. However, the film still feels fresh and inventive as it immerses the filmmakers' quirks in a moving and tragic past.
Following the horrifying Genpei War of 11801185, Hideo Furukawa's novel (whose modern translation of the Japanese epic Heike Monogatari was the basis for Naoko Yamadas' superb anime adaptation), has its setting in Japan's Muromachi period. As the Ashikaga clan ruthlessly fights to protect its power, it quietly buries the Heike clan by controlling its history and censoring stories about it.
Young Tomona, one of the two films' leads, discovers a solitary encounter with Inu-Oh, a child who was initially forbidden from eating with hounds in the Heike story. Inu-Oh is depicted as a social outcast who was erased from history.
Yuasa's subjective perspective makes the first encounter between Tomona and Inu-Oh a joy to watch. His eye is characterized by a type of keyhole camera racing through the streets and rooftops, to onlookers' dismay. He reconciles himself to his ostracization by leaning toward slanderous behavior. He is more serene. Rain and singing biwa priests appear as vague, silhouetted impressions through Tomona's senses.
Even in the midst of the film's euphoria, we see the two expressing themselves to other people, sharing their perspectives so that they may understand the world. Tomona adopts some of Inu-Ohs wild spirit, while Inu-Oh picks up Tomona's gentleness. Together, the two reinvent and resurrect the trend.
The trio discovers their purpose in showcasing their clan members' stories in an electric new style, and the film quickly swerves into its wonderful conclusion: What if Beatlemania happened 600 years ago? The public goes wild, and the authorities become suspicious, fearing subversiveness, especially when the music begins promoting history that the government has deliberately suppressed. However, Inu-Oh also delights in sheer performance.
Yuasa is best known for his engaging rubber-band characters, and the way he seeks out the same kind of joyous freedom as Inu-Oh and Tomona are experimenting with. Inu-Oh contrasts Noh theater with a more contemporary interpretation of pop culture: one song, named Dragon Commander, evokes the speedy lyrics and borrowed operatic harmonies of Bohemian Rhapsody.
The movie's musical sequences resemble contemporary gigs, with light performances, crowd participation, and even black-clad security guards. The rest of the score maintains its playful quality as instrumentalist and turntablist Yoshihide Otomo injects electronic tones into feudal settings.
Inu-Oh and Tomona reinvent themselves into Noh theater rock stars as they are transformed into historical figures. Later, he wows crowds and confuses governors with his androgynous fashion sense, as peasants break dance and even dance through a Soul Train line.
Yuasa delights in Inu-Oh's atypical physicality, erratic dance moves, and angelic voice, but also becomes so involved in the performance itself that the mechanics feel completely real. Its a truly amazing illusory effect that gives the film that extra bit of immersion.
Yuasa arranges the film through mixed media, exploring spaces with 3D CG animation or more tactile, painterly imagery. There are some slasher-style horror interludes as a mysterious figure stalks and kills roaming biwa priests, and an out-of-body experience that will have some recalling 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Inu-Oh and Tomona's intimate relationship and fluid gender performance, which receives retaliation for their exploration of xenophobia, is more heavily stylized and ruggedly human. Tomona is now Tomoari, and his lithe, muscular frame and provocative gyrations make him a sex symbol for braying crowds.
Inu-Oh depicts the dead, and the film is elegiac in its depiction of oppressive governments. The film isnt naive about the consequences of such subversiveness, though it's a foregone conclusion for any artist. Artists living for themselves, in the act of preserving their work, and beyond anyone's oppressive control.
On August 12, Inu-Oh will be released in American theaters.