Thu. Jun 13th, 2024

Masaaki Yuasa’s Style of Madness

It sounds like people who have never seen even one of Masaaki Yuasa’s works will think that Inu-Oh is a film of its silliness and madness. However, most of his works are like such. The filmmaker is crafting a rewarding career. From shifting eccentric tunes to immersive pop art, whether through Mind Game, The Tatami Galaxy, or Ping Pong the Animation, the stories Yuasa tells can barely fit on screen into a film.

Like its detached yet intense animation style, it’s not interested in living up to expectations seemingly. Indeed, for all its craziness, what America knows about Noh (a form of classical Japanese theater in which masked dancers gracefully interpret supernatural stories) could effortlessly fill a documentary film. Of course, it was neither the audience nor the director’s development after Inu-Oh served as an alternative rowdy punk focused on two social disapprovals.

The defiant appearance style breaks all the rules. Only by becoming it, all but, history forgetting them, it elevated them to rock star status too. The competition is fierce. However, it might be safe to say that the film becomes a serial killer of feudal Japanese opera political and rock tragedy as the best film, especially animation, in 2022.

Into the Trip

Among his media’s most unpredictable artists, Yuasa often specializes in trippy anime features off the wall. Most of his work will remind us of an extreme anti-establishment a la Ralph Bakshi and Robert Crumb. However, Yuasa was the last that fans expected to show interest in the strict rules-based world of Noh. Of all the filmmakers now working in Japan, it clicks that Yuasa’s interest is in subverting such rigid conventions and stylistic codes.

In short, the film is a tribute such as abstract spray graffiti sketches for the sake of traditional Japanese calligraphy. The story tells of a cursed boy. He doesn’t have a name. Still, we call him Inu-oh. Voiced by Avu-chan, the lead singer of the punk band Queen Bee, he has lived like an animal on the fringes of society and hidden behind a mask. With one arm at least six feet long, scales cover his back.

People cursed him from birth for reasons he couldn’t understand. Noh has yet to crystallize into its present form while set six centuries ago during the Muromachi period. On the other hand, he imagined how two orphaned youths shocked the establishment by being true to themselves.


They are a blind biwa (a stringed instrument such as a lute with a distinctive bold sound) player named Tomona and the acute outcast of Inu-oh. Fittingly, Inu-oh centers on defiant yet inspiring art. In the first place, Tomona wanders away from his home to seek revenge. In surviving, he kept the oral tradition alive by playing the biwa as a musical force. The prologue shows an Eastern equivalent of the Faustian bargain.

Inu-oh’s father obtains the Magic mask, making him the most famous Noh player. However, his success came at a price. The powerful masquerade demands the soul of baby Inu-oh as payment or, ambiguously, a less clear-cut rule. Granted, Yuasa could have had a distinguished career in live theatre. The proof is the film, featuring an epic stage show whose game of shadows, lighting gimmicks, and wirework fills the performance.

It might tear down the house in the 21st century; we witness how the band realizes such a vision using contemporary technology. It is one of the film’s many visual traits. Like the tragic tale, Inu-oh had to be born with a severe disability. His extremely disfigured face, one very long arm, and mangled body meant that he had to hide behind a hollow pumpkin so as not to frighten people in the street.

Behind the Mask

Yuasa indeed takes many references from many films. Judging by the placement of the eye holes on Inu-oh’s mask, it feels like Mr. Potato Head in medieval Japan or Inu-oh’s intention to hide his face by force, similar to Christiane from Eyes Without a Face. Besides, such a view is slightly identical to David Lynch’s The Elephant Man. But, all the comical and eccentric fills Inu-oh’s character.

In the journey, Inu-oh and Tomona will meet in a land where serial killers surround both. Of course, to start their band, they combined a biwa storytelling style with epic wails that rivaled David Bowie’s. They have incorporated hard-rock riffs, carnal costumes, and pyrotechnic theatrics into their band. Boldly, they will tell Heike stories that no one has informed before. Therefore, they are against political mandates and musical traditions.

Luckily for Inu-oh, Tomona can’t see and doesn’t mind getting the band together with the strange appearance of a stranger. Taught to play the biwa and taken in by a blind monk, Tomona instantly bonds with Inu-oh. He kept pushing through one of Inu-oh’s dynamic breakdance numbers while playing tunes and improvising on the spot. The pair sway together on the bridge, attracting a fan base instantly, to the point of threatening master Noh himself.

We Will Rock You

Exactly, it’s fair to say that Inu-Oh needs more time than we need. It features dazzling musical performances and builds multiple storylines with ambiguity that pays off indeed. However, it can get confusing. Once the distortion enters, there is no turning back. Most of the broadcast time, Yuasa shows a mere fireworks-style concert. Adapted from Hideo Furukawa’s novel Tales of the Heike: Inu-Oh, the film takes a long time to get to an outdoor concert.

With too much context for Inu-Oh covered in its undulating opening stretch, they are thrilling to watch once they begin. It is much closer to the spectacular arena shows that bands like Queen put on than dancing poetry elegantly in a temple. For example, one of Inu-oh’s epic performances involves stomping a la Queen’s We Will Rock You, like the original song, which engages the audience.

For now, others used 14th-century magic lantern technology to suggest history’s first Jumbotron. Such imagery will bring to life a series of musical performances throbbing with a rare rock opera energy. Usually, Yuasa will provide cult classics of every big song. Every one of the stories will overflow, and every beat will be loud, thanks to Otomo Yoshihide.


Tomona comes from a town that was the site of a devastating battle. The Heike’s troops went to plunge the sea into the city; their restless spirit still haunts such a region. As a side effect of his curse, Inu-oh can feel a bright orange and amoeba-like blob floating around. Yet, Inu-Oh might fall apart with its plot. However, it never diminishes its impact, becoming a siren scream of musical beauty or fury.

It’s infectious and vibrant, like the Noh code of agreeing to a narrow set of stories. To the expanse, someone would brutally kill monks who dared to sing about anything outside of canon. Instead, Inu-oh’s ability to communicate with dead Heike warriors gives him access to new materials. Together with his tortured background, it proved far more exciting for local audiences than the stuffy Noh shows.

Quickly, fans would gather, scream, and fangirl, crybabies, like they were watching The Beatles’ concert. If narrow, the film could end its narrative with a brutal yet enchanting musical explosion. It would be very memorable. However, the story has some more realistic beats for us to kick. So are the very unimportant and uncomfortable punching points and guts.

The Celebration

However, Inu-Oh becomes a story about using art to reveal the truth about its powers. It’s also not a story about how outmoded biwa glam rock acts to unite feudal Japan in defiance of social tradition. By becoming a story about why people cannot tell the stories, it moves as a tragedy and a celebration. As Tomona and Inu-oh’s characters developed, they chose their name as a sign of true freedom.

Feminine features and costumes give them a kind of androgynous chic. As usual, it is reminiscent of vintage glam-rock legends of yesteryear. Every time Inu-oh dances, his body corrects one of his deformities. To put it simply, a charming touch of fairy tales deepens the film’s fantasy dimension and prepares an ending, ironically, is very satisfying.


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