The phantom that haunts the eccentric Japanese rock opera “Inu-oh” isn’t the comeliest of creatures — not at first, anyway. Like many of the hallucinatory sights and transporting sounds on this feature-length anime, Inu-oh, as he involves be recognized, tends to shapeshift in accordance with director Masaaki Yuasa’s whims. An historic Noh dancer born underneath extremely mysterious circumstances, he bursts into the body on spindly human legs, an overgrown extendable arm flailing behind him like a kite. Two oddly positioned eyes peer out from behind a gourd-shaped masks that hides a face so terrifying, it’s a marvel it doesn’t flip unlucky onlookers to stone.
Inu-oh, impressed by a real-life performer of the identical title (and voiced by Avu-chan, lead singer and songwriter for the band Queen Bee), right here takes the misshapen type of a basic anime grotesque. However he additionally serves as one thing of a lesson to these he scares off, reminding them that peculiarity isn’t inherent trigger for suspicion or concern. “Inu-oh” provides its personal welcome demonstration of this precept. A wealthy, unstable alloy of historical past, legend, musical pageantry and cinematic psychedelia, it mounts an argument for mind-expanding, complacency-rattling artwork in a world that always prefers the alternative.
If that world sounds an terrible lot like ours, it is usually the politically divided 14th-century Japan towards which “Inu-oh” unfolds. One of many issues of Yuasa’s film is how battle and tragedy are enshrined in folklore, and the precise function that artists play in recording, distorting, overlooking and generally rescuing historical past. At the same time as a struggle rages between the nation’s northern and southern imperial courts, whispered recollections persist of the Heike samurai clan, worn out by their enemies, the Genji, in a livid battle at sea roughly 200 years earlier. (Their battle was immortalized within the Twelfth-century epic “The Tale of the Heike”; the film was tailored by Akiko Nogi from Hideo Furukawa’s extra just lately revealed novel, “Tales of the Heike: The Inu-Oh Chapters.”)
Whereas the sunken Heike ships are usually plundered by gold seekers, their actual buried treasure, the film insists, lies of their wealth of untold, soon-to-be-forgotten tales. The problem of discovering and retelling these tales falls to Tomona (Mirai Moriyama), a touring biwa participant who grew up close to that watery battleground, and Inu-oh, the ugly outcast with whom he crosses paths. Years earlier, Tomona was blinded throughout a childhood accident, a tragedy that quickly reveals itself as future. Unable to see — or be frightened by — Inu-oh’s visage, Tomona joins forces with this unusual dancing demon. Collectively they forge an inconceivable musical alliance that can usher them onto the nation’s hottest out of doors phases.
Within the context of a comparatively staid and strictly government-regimented musical custom, Inu-oh and Tomona’s first efficiency has the galvanizing impact of Bob Dylan going electrical. Within the film’s most impressed stroke, the music festivals of Muromachi-period Japan are remodeled into their very own rock scene, full with androgynously glammed-out musicians, head-banging crowds and, at one level, a stunning projection of a large, fiery whale. In its prolonged midsection, the film basically morphs right into a live performance movie wherein the performers unleash a collection of banger ballads, every tune excavating a narrative concerning the fallen Heike warriors, typically set to a jolting we-will-rock-you beat. (The music is credited to the experimental musician Otomo Yoshihide.)
All this daring, heady arena-rock anachronism makes an intuitive type of sense. Nonetheless, as a narrative about storytelling, “Inu-oh” can have a tendency towards the diffuse. The busy, generally baffling plot hurtles ahead in a welter of eruptive imagery, a few of it dazzlingly up-to-the-minute, a few of it completed in a extra primitive, inky fashion. This isn’t the primary time that Yuasa, one of many extra stylistically unfettered filmmakers working in Japanese animation, has employed a variety of visible kinds to inform a narrative, as he did in his 2004 debut function, “Mind Game.” (His different fantasy-themed options embody 2019’s charming surfer romance “Ride Your Wave.”)
However there’s that means within the filmmaker’s insanity, and it isn’t onerous to suss out. Inu-oh and Tomona’s friendship poses a risk to the ruling, warring imperial order, their creativity granting them an influence that dictators can prohibit however by no means themselves wield. And with every wildly applauded efficiency, Inu-oh’s physiognomy notably modifications; he seems much less demonically outlandish and increasingly more human, as if by restoring the humanity of the Heike clans he have been additionally forging his personal. It’s an efficient metaphor for the transformative nature of artwork in a film that calls for to be seen and heard, a minimum of the anguished, stressed spirits it will possibly barely comprise.
In Japanese with English subtitles
Ranking: PG-13, for some sturdy violence and bloody photos, and suggestive materials
Operating time: 1 hour, 38 minutes
Taking part in: Begins Aug. 12 basically launch