Combustible Celluloid Review - Inu-Oh (2022), Akiko Nogi, based on a novel by Hideo Furukawa, Masaaki Yuasa, Avu-chan, Mirai Moriyama, Yutaka Matsushige, Kenjiro Tsuda, Tasuku Emoto (voices)
Combustible Celluloid
With: Avu-chan, Mirai Moriyama, Yutaka Matsushige, Kenjiro Tsuda, Tasuku Emoto (voices)
Written by: Akiko Nogi, based on a novel by Hideo Furukawa
Directed by: Masaaki Yuasa
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some strong violence and bloody images, and suggestive material
Language: Japanese, with English subtitles
Running Time: 98
Date: 08/12/2022

Inu-Oh (2022)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Rock Therapy

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

It takes a while to really get going, but when it does, this anime musical is weird and exhilarating and oddly beautiful, and even piercingly relevant, given its depiction of greed, power, and lies.

The Japan of the 14th century is riddled with political unease and a devastating civil war that has wiped out the entire Heike clan. Young Tomona (voiced by Mirai Moriyama) and his father (voiced by Yutaka Matsushige) make a living diving for treasure. They are hired to find a magic sword, and they succeed, but, unaware of its power, Tomona's father is killed and Tomona is blinded.

Meanwhile, Inu-Oh (voiced by Avu-chan) is born to a famous Noh performer (voiced by KenjirĂ´ Tsuda). Due to his unusual physical characteristics, he is shunned and forced to hide behind a gourd mask. After living with monks and mastering the musical instrument the biwa, Tomona meets Inu-Oh and they become unlikely friends. It is discovered that Inu-Oh has innate singing and dancing skills, so they begin performing. As their rock-like concerts draw bigger and more enthusiastic crowds, Inu-Oh's body changes, bit by bit. But what is the mystery behind his curse?

Coming from the noted anime filmmaker Masaaki Yuasa (Mind Game; The Night Is Short, Walk on Girl), and based on a novel by Hideo Furukawa, Inu-Oh starts with a narrator who sets up the time, place, and parties involved, and anyone not well-versed in Japanese history may want to quickly take notes. The movie's rhythm seems a bit off as well, as Yuasa gives us some strange, bloody flashbacks to Inu-Oh's story, barely hinting at it, before switching to Tomona's story and staying there for a while. We also have to wait for both characters to grow up. Even though the movie is only 98 minutes, it drags a bit.

The magic first happens when the two characters meet, and Tomona begins joyously jamming on his biwa, while Inu-Oh goes into a pleasure-filled dance. When they later perform as adults, they employ a three-piece band, with Tomona on his biwa, plus a huge drum, and a large bowed, stringed instrument, but the sound that comes out is anachronistic modern rock, with wailing electric guitars and a full drum kit.

Visually, Inu-Oh captures the whirling dizziness of the music. The crazy, loose animation is probably closer to Ralph Bakshi than to Hayao Miyazaki, sometimes astonishing, sometimes off-putting, but the message about those in power attempting to suppress the truth is bracing.

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