To expand upon my quick thoughts in the video, Inu-Oh (Japanese: 犬王, literally “Dog King”) is a Japanese animated fantasy musical film directed by Masaaki Yuasa (Ride Your Wave) from a screenplay written by Akiko Nogi (The Voice of Sin). Featuring Avu-chan, Mirai Moriyama, Tasuku Emoto, Kenjiro Tsuda, and Yutaka Matsushige in the original version with Joshua Waters, Sena Bryer, Jason Marnocha, Keythe Farley, Holden Thomas, Jonathan Leon, and Carter Young providing voices for the English dub; the film is based upon the novel Tales of the Heike: Inu-Oh by Hideo Furukawa. Set in 14th-century Japan, the story follows Inu-Oh, a deformed Noh dancer, and Tomoichi, a blind biwa player as they form a friendship while utilizing their respective talents to start their own troupe.
In the modern day, an old biwa player narrates how 900 years ago, the Genji clan sought the Imperial Regalia to unite the emperor’s throne. They defeat the rival Heike clan at the Battle of Dan-no-Ura, where the child emperor drowns while carrying the Grasscutter Sword. Three hundred years later, Inu-Oh is born to a Noh dancer and his wife in Kyoto. Deformed, the child has an obtuse face with three eyes and a hand where his left ear should be, two stubby legs, and one long arm. Inu-Oh has his entire body covered with clothing and a gourd mask to cover his face. Due to his condition, he spends most of his time with the family’s dogs. While watching his father teach his older brothers how to dance, Inu-Oh begins to practice himself. After learning how to dance his legs magically grow to normal size making him three times as tall.
In another village, a child named Tomona is out diving where the Battle of Dan-no-Ura took place hoping to find treasure. He finds a tattered sword hilt and a large box but is unable to open it on his own. After returning to his village he is told that his family has visitors. People are lined up outside of his house wondering what is going on. Agents of Ashikaga Yoshimitsu from Kyoto hire Tomona and his father to retrieve a box from a Heike shipwreck. Tomona’s father states that after 60 years his family has never found any treasure. After seeing the large sum of money Tomona nods at his father to take the job realizing he found the box earlier. Back at the site the two open the box and find a blade wrapped in cloth. Upon returning to the boat, Tomona’s father unsheathes the blade not realizing that it is the Grasscutter Sword. The sword lets loose a wave of energy that cuts him in half and blinds Tomona. After returning to shore the agents leave and Tomona’s mother is distraught.
Music like math is universal and can be enjoyed by everyone. Even if you don’t know the words to a song the tune can still be pleasant to listen to. Music is also a way to connect with history as many of the first songs were ways to pass down stories to the next generation. The premise of Inu-Oh is basically a story being told through different songs. The viewer learns many things about not only the characters but the history of this world via the music.
Masaaki Yuasa does a great job at keeping music as the focus of Inu-Oh. Interestingly enough the sound of the music and the style of the dancing is very anachronistic. Inu-Oh dances very similar to Michael Jackson with his wild leg kicks and erotic hip thrusts. Whenever Tomona plays his biwa it sounds like an electric guitar. This gives the music a rock ‘n’ roll vibe even though the lyrics are traditional. Interestingly, they chose not to dub over the songs in the English version of the film. All the music remains in Japanese with subtitles. I can only assume it’s this way so that the authenticity remains. Also, Japanese lyrics don’t always translate well into English.
The quick rise to stardom of Inu-Oh and Tomona’s troupe can be seen as an allegory for the birth of rock ‘n’ roll. While younger people were fans of the music, the older generation was not fond of it. During their performances, the crowd cheers and sings along instead of the traditional courtesy of being quiet. The way Inu-Oh and Tomona begin to dress is similar to hair metal rock stars. Tomona especially becomes more androgynous choosing to were feminine Geisha makeup. This was not uncommon for rock icons in the ’80s with prime examples being Boy George, David Bowie, and Prince. This look could also be a nod to his Japanese voice actor Avu-chan who is transgender and identifies with gender aspects of both men and women.
The film also deals with different aspects of change. While Inu-Oh goes through many physical changes throughout the movie, Tomona changes mentally. At each stage in his life, it’s almost as if he is a different person. He starts as the youthful Tomona who searches for treasure with his dad. Then he becomes the blind biwa player named Tomoichi after joining his first troupe. Once he meets Inu-Oh and their troupe becomes famous, he changes his name again to Tomoari.
The only issue I have with the film is the handling of Tomona’s initial storyline. We start the movie expecting to find out more about the Grasscutter Sword, but that storyline is dropped in favor of them forming their troupe and Inu-Oh finding out how he became deformed. While this isn’t all bad I would have liked to see the sword appear more significantly later on in the picture.
If you enjoy anime and music this is the film for you. The animation is beautiful, the rock ‘n’ roll inspired music is fun and the story is deep and meaningful on many levels. I give Inu-Oh a Decent 7.3/10. Masaaki Yuasa has proven himself as a fine producer and director. Hopefully, Science SARU continues to release quality content in the future.