Inu-Oh (Sydney Film Festival) – Film Review

Inu-oh is set in 14th century Japan and tells the story of two young men that rise to fame playing a new style of music that tells tales of the fallen Heike clan. It weaves history and fiction together with the supernatural, while evolving traditional Japanese music into wild rock concerts.

As a young boy, Tomana is cursed by a sacred treasure and becomes blind. He meets a priest playing the Biwa and telling the stories of the Heike. He trains to become a Biwa priest himself and travels the land searching for more tales and treasures. One day he chanced upon a deformed boy who has no name but loves to dance. His new friend decides to name himself Inu-oh (which loosely translates to ‘Dog King’), and as they sing and dance, it has effects on the strange features of his body, as if slowly breaking the curse of his disabilities. Together, they form a troupe to perform songs and dance in a completely new style that sweeps the nation.

A blend of traditional Japanese music with modern rock sounds gives this movie such a unique and enchanting soundtrack. The infectious beat will draw you in, just as it does the crowds in the story. Before long, I found myself swaying and tapping to the beat!

While this movie is a fictional story based on the book, Tales of the Heike: INU-OH by Hideo Furukawa), its historical roots are also interesting to note. The titular character, Inu-oh is vaguely based on a musical performer from ancient times. For those that have not delved much into Japanese culture, these theatrical musical tales are also part of history, as this period notes when Saragaku performances evolved into the Noh and Kyogen; a combination of Japanese music, drama and comedy acts that still exist today.

With each song and performance throughout the movie being different, the film kept getting more interesting, and I loved how each musical story would unfold. The colours of the movie are fairly subdued, but as the performances ramp up, the splashes of glowing lights and neons make everything so vibrant. It’s so clever how the characters in the movie create the special effects for their shows using what was available in that time period.

Inu-Oh uses hand drawn animation and has a very gritty and detailed style, unlike the cute style that is more prevalent in the anime genre. The art style reflects the harshness of life that lower class citizens of feudal Japan had to experience as it suffered from centuries of civil war and political conflict. In this world where nobles rule absolutely, would you choose your own path and risk punishment, or do you do as you are told and blend in with the crowd?

Directed by Masaaki Yuasa, well known in recent times for other mind-bending anime such as Devilman Crybaby, Tatami Galaxy and Night Is Short Walk On Girl, the addition of Inu-Oh to his repertoire certainly does not disappoint, especially for those who are looking for something outside the norm. If you’ve ever wondered what rock music would sound like in ancient Japan, then this is the movie for you!

Inu-Oh is playing limited screenings as part of the 2022 Sydney Film Festival.
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