Why "Inu-oh" is the craziest Japanese anime film of the year

In theaters this Wednesday, November 23, this unclassifiable film is a rock opera halfway between Woodstock and 2001: A Space Odyssey.

This Wednesday comes out Inu-oh, one of the most radical proposals in contemporary Japanese animation. Finally in the cinema after having passed through the biggest festivals in the world (Venice, Angoulême, Annecy), this unclassifiable film is a rock opera halfway between Woodstock and 2001: A Space Odyssey.

In this film adapted from a famous Japanese tale, a cursed creature and a blind player of a biwa (a kind of lute) combine to create a musical duo whose singularity seduces the crowds. “I hope that the public will watch the film as if they were attending a concert”, tells BFMTV Masaaki Yuasa, well known to animation fans for his iconoclastic works.

Inventor of forms and genius animator, Masaaki Yuasa is the author of an abundant and irreverent work, atypical in Japanese animation cinema (Mind Game, Devilman Crybaby, Ride Your Wave). His work fascinates so much that it will be the subject of a conference on November 21 at Paris City University.

Experimental

Inu-oh is his most ambitious film. The result is very surprising, with unforgettable images, close to abstraction. “I had absolutely no intention of doing anything experimental,” the director further clarifies. “I wanted to mix rock – a music that has revolutionized society – with the world of nô theater, where there are lots of invisible things that are left to the imagination of the public.”

In this film of extreme freedom, Yuasa allows himself all the visual audacity, even if it means destabilizing part of the public. “You always have to try at least one thing in each work,” he recommends. “Inu-Oh is the film in which I have been the most adventurous of my career. For years I tried to meet the expectations of the public. But there, I prioritized my desire.”

For fifteen years, Yuasa has been chaining series and films. Impressive productivity: “I’m looking for a kind of efficiency”, sums up the director, aware of having fired all the woods, and of having built up a difficult to understand filmography over the years. “I don’t know my style”, he admits, before adding: “One day, I would like to take more time to make a film.”

The influence of Isao Takahata

Unclassifiable, Masaaki Yuasa is nonetheless influenced by the greatest, such as Isao Takahata, with whom he worked on My neighbors the Yamada. “I prefer Miyazaki’s films, but I feel closer to Takahata’s philosophy, which can be found in the books he wrote. He pushed me to think for myself.”

Like Takahata, Yuasa’s style continues to evolve from film to film. For Inu-oh, he worked with Taiyou Matsumoto. “I always wanted to work with him. When he started out, I felt there was a lot in common between our two styles. But since then he has progressed enormously! His art has become much more refined and much deeper than mine.”

A scene from the Japanese animated film "Inu-oh"
A scene from the Japanese anime movie “Inu-oh” © All The Anime

The characters of Inu-oh are thus faithful to the style of the designer, with their atypical faces, and their crooked teeth. “In Japan, we pay too much attention to the beauty of the teeth,” laughs Yuasa. “Before, we didn’t pay as much attention to it. The rock singers that I love also very often have teeth that are not regular. That’s what I wanted to show.”

Expand the audience

Born in 1965, Masaaki Yuasa owes his vocation to the explosion of animation cinema for adults in Japan at the end of the 1970s. “That’s what made me aware of this art. When I was little , I thought you had to stop watching anime and reading manga after a certain age. Then I realized that you could continue.”

The discovery, as a teenager, of the cinema version of the cult SF series Yamato gives him the effect of an electric shock. “It was a hit at the cinema,” he recalls. “We understood that day that it was possible to achieve great quality in animation. Until then, I had a vague desire to draw, but that’s when I realized that I wanted work in animation.”

Until now less known to the general public than a Makoto Shinkai (Your name.) or a Mamoru Hosoda (Mirai), Masaaki Yuasa hopes to expand his audience with Inu-oh and make adult animation known to as many people as possible. But he doubts:

“I am the first to want to know the method to have the maximum number of spectators. I am thinking about it, but for the moment I have not found it.”

Despite the recognition of international critics and the presence of his films in major festivals, the director does not yet have free rein to carry out the projects of his dreams. “I don’t feel that it helps at all,” he laments. “I try in the meantime to make my films in the best possible conditions.”

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