Review by Sean Boelman
Masaaki Yuasa has become one of the most acclaimed anime filmmakers working right now thanks to his uniquely experimental animated films. His newest feature, Inu-oh, is a rock opera like no other, a transcendent experience that is both gorgeously animated and profound with its message.
The movie tells the story of a blind musician and a cursed dancer who stun society with their extraordinary talent and revolutionary performances. Although it seems like a very thin plot, screenwriter Akiko Noki takes Hideo Furukawa’s novel and expands upon it with rich world-building.
Although the film is a bit slow to start, its entire first act being used to set the stage for a final hour which is among the most insane things that you will see at the movies this year. It’s trippy and mesmerizing without being hard to follow, which is what allows it to be one of the best cinematic experiences of the year.
The animation style is absolutely gorgeous, with a perfect balance of whimsy and realism. The movie uses its historical context in a fascinating way while also taking advantage of the fantasy elements. And the character design, particularly for the eponymous character, is wonderfully detailed.
With anime films, the soundtrack can either be really memorable or super repetitive, but in this case, it’s thankfully the former. Blending traditional Japanese sounds with modern rock style, there are a couple of songs in the movie that not only work within the context of the film but are also genuinely memorable in their own right.
On its surface, the movie seems to be about accepting the differences we have with one another, and while that message is certainly there (and a very positive one), it’s the less interesting through-line. The more intriguing part kicks in during the second half, exploring the clash between self-expression and censorship.
The character development in the film is rather straightforward, but it’s effective nonetheless. Both of the lead characters are extremely compelling and sympathetic, and while a lot of that rides on their disabilities, the fact that there is so little disabled representation in cinema makes them notable.
Inu-oh is unquestionably one of the best animated movies of this year. With an art style that is absolutely astounding, fantastic songs, and a storyline that is equally thoughtful and fun, there’s been nothing quite like it this year, and that’s a good thing.
Inu-oh screened at the 2022 Fantasia International Film Festival, which runs July 13 through August 3.
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