Rotterdam 2023 Review: INU-OH Is Magnificent Masaaki At His Best
Yuasa Masaaki has created one of his most beautiful films, which plays like a rock musical.
As the saying goes, "Good Things Come to Those Who Wait" and Inu-Oh is very, very good indeed. And I'm happy to have been able to check it out on one of Rotterdam's largest screens.
In the film, we follow the lives of two very unfortunate young men in 13th century Japan. Many years earlier, Japan was in a civil war which ended when the Heike clan lost a sea battle. Young Tomono earns a living diving at the place of battle and bringing up Heike treasures, but one day an accident causes him to lose his eyesight, and he becomes one of the blind monks who play the biwa, a kind of lute, singing a fixed set of sad stories about the Heike clan.
One day he encounters a boy who is so incredibly deformed that he is not treated like a human, but as a dog, to the point that he is called Inu-Oh (King of Dogs). The two discover that when they sing and dance together, telling new stories about the Heike army, Inu-Oh seems to heal a bit. Together, driven by their art, they begin giving wilder, more spectacular performances and become more and more popular because of it. Meanwhile, the ruling clan begins to frown at all the adoration Tomono and Inu-Oh receive, especially since their songs revive the popularity of the Heike as well, something which the authorities see as a threat to the unification of the country...
One of the things we always admire Yuasa Masaaki for is his sense of design and style. He is able to put his signature on every project he is involved in but is not bound to a single animation technique. Inu-Oh looks different from his previous films and series, yet retains his unique touch. This time, he goes for your senses, whether he shows the world as experienced through the mind of a blind person, or the cheekily anachronistic modern rock concerts Inu-Oh and Tomono end up doing. There is one segment in the film which is almost non-stop musical performances, a succession which never feels like it's wearing out its welcome. Even in its quieter moments and plot exposition, there is always something to see or hear. The film is a veritable audiovisual feast.
While it helps if you know a bit about the history of the Heike sea-battle (having seen the 1964 Kwaidan's "Hoichi the Earless" segment for example will definitely help), it is not needed for your enjoyment. Inu-Oh is not about a history lesson. It is about art, having a rebel spirit, about stomping on holy ground to get heard, if necessary.
This is maybe the finest work Yuasa Masaaki has done in the last decade, and it has so much of animation's ability to produce a cinematic breeze of fresh air. I love it unreservedly and hope to be able to revisit it many, many times.
Rotterdam audiences liked it as well and awarded the film a 4.4 out of 5.
Now, how do I get these catchy tunes out of my head?
Inu-Oh is traveling festivals worldwide and can be acquired on Blu-ray and DVD, West of the Atlantic.
- Masaaki Yuasa
- Hideo Furukawa
- Akiko Nogi
- Mirai Moriyama
- Tasuku Emoto