*Note: this review was originally published for Patreon subscribers in August
I’ve been doing my best to see as many anime films as possible in theaters this year and thus far Belle and The Deer King have both proved to be entertaining. However, while I previously maintained that Belle was the greatest animated film to come out this year, I think that title must now be relinquished and given to Inu-Oh because this is surely the greatest animated film that will come out this year.
Inu-Oh premiered at the 78th Venice International Film Festival in 2021 and is based on Tales of the Heike: Inu-Oh by Hideo Furukawa. The film follows the titular character, Inu-Oh, a brilliant dancer cursed with an unimaginable deformity, and Tomona, a blind musician who makes incredible music with the biwa. Ostracized by most of society for their respective impairments, the two form a musical troupe intent on taking the world by storm. But political events outside their control threaten to derail everything Tomona and Inu-Oh have created….
Inu-Oh was directed by Masaaki Yuasa and he did an incredible job. The story starts off as a mesmerizing tale of ancient Japan, largely sung in a traditional manner by an off-screen narrator playing the biwa. But what truly makes the film brilliant for me is what happens partway through: once Inu-Oh and Tomona meet and decide to make music together….the movie becomes something of a rock opera. That’s probably not the right word to describe it but I can’t think of anything better. The performances get turned up to 11 and each one feels like a modern rock concert was brought to ancient Japan, only played with traditional instruments. This development initially caught me by surprise, but once I settled into the music I found it quite lovely.
The intertwining stories of Tomona and Inu-Oh are equal parts beautiful and heartbreaking, each for their own reasons. Of course the biggest element of the story is how and why Inu-Oh looks the way he does. Without revealing any details, I will say that I LOVE how this mystery was explained and it is absolutely worth sitting through the film to find out the full story of what happened (you get hints at the beginning of the film but the full story isn’t explained until later).
Tomona’s story….oh wow, it’s just as powerful as Inu-Oh’s if I’m honest. This kid goes through a huge roller coaster ride, from the lowest of lows to the highest of highs, with an ending that shocked me to my core. You really are made to feel for this character, and I won’t forget his story any time soon.
One more time, I want to come back to Inu-Oh’s performances. Like Tomona’s concerts, they feel almost shockingly modern, but with a twist of traditional Japanese dance that makes them mesmerizing to watch. And each dance is completely different, as Inu-Oh’s body changes throughout the film (I’ll say no more on that due to spoilers). But it’s Inu-Oh’s final dance that captivated me the most. It’s performed before the shogun and it is nothing short of animated perfection. Whereas the earlier performances were more frantic and loud (for lack of a better word), this final dance, at least the first part, plays out like a dream.
Inu-Oh is easily one of the best films I’ve seen this year and I urge all of you to check the film out in theaters if you get the chance.
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