Inu-oh Review – Medieval Anime Rock Opera Tears Noh Theater A New | Movies
ANime’s 14th-century rock opera Maverick Masaaki Yuasa takes the most traditional start possible with a few at Noh declaim. But things quickly get crazy: Hendrix-style lute shredding behind the head, ghost samurai breakdancing, giant whale light shows. Transforming medieval Noh into a world of guitar gods and cavorting dancers, Inu-oh asks its two disabled main characters to make a psychedelic plea for the abandonment of mainstream narratives, told in a fruitful patchwork of styles by Yuasa who asserts his own underdog credentials.
Tomona (Mirai Moriyama) and Inu-oh (trans musician Avu-chan) are Kyoto’s Keith Richards and Mick Jagger of the Muromachi era. The first is a biwa player who, in the opening section of the film, is blinded by a mystical sword lost in a battle between two clans fighting for the shogunate two centuries earlier. The second is the disfigured son of a Noh troop leader, who hides his face behind a calabash mask and frolics with the help of a giant arm like a nacelle crane. But together, they’re dynamite: Tomona ripping through Noh music with stadium rock aplomb, Inu-oh bewitching the entire town with a whirlwind dance that mends his body every time he performs.
For their material, the duo are inspired by the stories of the defeated Heike clan, but the shogun wants to ensure, with the help of the Noh guilds, that this outlawed story is extinguished. Feeding off the spirits they see around them as floating orange amoebas, Tomona and Inu-oh refuse to let authority interfere with self-expression. Yuasa is also cavalier, unleashing a torrent of techniques, including folk figure work, embellished abstract river battles, and stunning blurry blind sequences. But that threatens to overpower the sometimes ungraceful storytelling; the film sags in the nearly 20-minute mid-section which is devoted to the first batch of songs (scored by experimental musician Otomo Yoshihide), oddly the only place where Yuasa’s visuals limp.
It more than makes up for it with two hits: Tomona and Inu-oh’s climactic performance for the shogun, which weaves together the various animation techniques as they delve into the past to reveal the truth about the curses that plague them; and a serene final coda that glides through time. An affirmation of lost histories and pariah perspectives that howls with protean power.