From Lu Over the Wall to Ride Your Wave, animator Masaaki Yuasa’s films have always involved songs to some extent, but Inu-Oh is the director’s first proper musical—a centuries-spanning supernatural opera of epic proportions.
As in all great jidaigeki, the plot revolves around social outcasts resisting authority. In this case, our unlikely heroes are Tomona, a blind biwa player, and the eponymous Inu-Oh, a physically deformed dancer. Together, the subversive pair basically invents rock and roll a few hundred years early (adopting a style reminiscent of Michael Jackson, Prince, and especially Queen—with perhaps a pinch of Tatsumi Hijikata, the creator of Butoh, sprinkled on for extra flavor), resulting in a full-blown cultural revolution that challenges the staid, rigid traditions of feudal-era theater and earns the ire of the oppressive forces seeking to “unify” (i.e., subjugate) Japan.
As expected, Yuasa’s impressionistic visuals are as gorgeous as they are unique—indeed, as his career progresses, he’s proving himself to be downright aesthetically chameleonic. Whereas Mind Game experimented with mixed media, Lu Over the Wall paid homage to Max Fleischer, and Night Is Short, Walk On Girl resembled an Osamu Tezuka comic brought to life, Inu-Oh evokes classic sumi-e paintings, featuring sprawling depictions of the Genpei War that rival even those glimpsed in Masaki Kobayashi’s similarly themed Kwaidan.
The movie’s true excellence, however, lies in its audio—particularly in how the sound design shapes the imagery. When we “see” the world as our sightless protagonist perceives it, for example, such ambient noises as the patter of rain, the rustle of leaves, and the thunder of a horse’s hooves literally burst into splashes of watercolor, drenching the screen in vibrant shades of blue, yellow, green, and red. Thus, Inu-Oh delights the eyes and the ears in equal measure—a sumptuous feast for all of the viewer’s senses.