Reviewed for Film Factual by Abe Friedtanzer
Director: Masaaki Yuasa
Writer: Akiko Nogi
Screened at: FYC screener, LA, 12/12/22
Opens: August 12th, 2022
Those who feel outcast by society tend to find comfort in others who have had similar experiences. Common understanding can develop from having been treated the same way, even if the reasons for that treatment may stem from different inspirations. Judging someone by their appearance is rarely a productive or intelligent way to assess capability, and, very often, the people who are deemed to be unable to do something are the ones most able to impress with their abilities. Inu-oh tells a tale of an unlikely partnership rooted in a sense of not fitting in with everyone else.
Inu-oh is set in Japan during the 14th century, where the discovery of a magical sword results in a boy named Tomona being blinded and his father being killed. A demonic mask also afflicts Inu-Oh, the son of a Noh dancer, who is born with many problems that cause his father to treat him very poorly. When Tomona, who has changed his name to Tomoichi, meets Inu-oh, he can’t see his appearance and the two become close. They soon begin a musical performance that astounds and amazes those who come to see it as they wonder what Inu-oh must look like under the mask he always wears.
This Japanese film is based on a novel by Hideo Furukawa and centuries-old legends, and the film incorporates certain larger-than-life fabled elements into its narrative. The ghost of Tomoichi’s father, who has trouble finding his son as he continually changes his name, is a major part of the story, pulling his son back to the identity he once had as he begins to discover new connections that may enhance his happiness and his experience of living. The effect Tomoichi and Inu-oh have on the populace also resembles a trance, as if their music really does invoke a higher power.
That music is central to this film’s effectiveness, and there is a distinct anachronism to the way in which they perform and the sounds that draw the ears of people who died six hundred years ago. That’s part of the appeal, since there is something unique and special about what they are doing, channeling a pain that they have both suppressed for their entire lives and which they are finally able to express in a way that the public can perceive, even if they can’t comprehend the depth of its origins and the meaning of what they are witnessing.
Inu-oh boasts beautiful animation that brings its characters and their world to life, guided by director Masaaki Yuasa, whose previous works include Ride Your Wave. There is an inherent power to this story based on the visuals alone and enhanced by the music that joins it, with a deep cultural component that speaks to long-spoken myths and beliefs. This Oscar-eligible animated feature is a nominee at the Golden Globes and several critics’ groups, a distinct, spirited film that stands on its own as it pays tribute to its inspirations and the general sentiment of the poignancy of individuality.
Story – B+
Technical – B+
Overall – B+