originally posted at https://canmom.tumblr.com/post/712619...
Hello everyone! Tonight we celebrate ✨Animation Night 150✨. I never imagined I would still be running without pause for that long. In a few weeks it will be our third anniversary. They still haven’t banned me!
Tonight our subject will be Masaaki Yuasa, one of the most brilliantly inventive directors in the whole medium. Yuasa was the very first director I wrote about on here on Animation Night 12, and once again on Animation Night 28, which between them gave a pretty good survey of his works - works such as Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken!, Devilman Crybaby, Kaiba, and Night Is Short Walk On Girl to name a few favourites. However, since then he’s gone and released another movie! Inu-Oh spent a long time touring the festivals, and then a while longer going around cinemas. I wrote this at the time I saw it…
If you haven’t seen this movie yet, seriously you gotta - Masaaki Yuasa totally outdid himself, the choreography and flow if it is just incredible and the whole concept (a biwa hōshi and the cursed mutant son of a noh performer invent glam rock to tell the story of fallen Heike soldiers) is both so out there I struggle to imagine how they came up with it, and yet a perfect evolution of the themes Yuasa explored in his films so far.
So… I was completely spellbound the whole time, it’s one of those films that really rekindles the firey love for animation after days of drawing tiedowns lol. The ideas for movement, the creative shot choices, the solidity and weight of the animation, the visual motifs, the music behind the animation… gaahh you guys it’s such a good movie that ties together so well. So glad to finally get the chance to see it. And you can trust that the very minute it becomes available on blu-ray, or at least the very week, I’ll be screening it on Animation Night.
Well, that day has come! I’ve got the movie and I’m gonna show it to ya.
So what’s this all about?
Perhaps you remember when we watched Naoko Yamada’s brilliant adaptation of the Heike Monogatari. This is the story of how the Taira or Heike clan, who once effectively ruled Japan back in the artistic and peaceful Heian period (literally ‘peace period’!) of 794-1185, got too ambitious and were annihilated by their rival Minamoto clan in what would later be called the Genpei War, bringing an end to the period of peace, and putting the samurai and their shogunate in ascendance.
You don’t need to know much more than that to follow Inu-Oh, which is set in the years after the fall of the Heike. The story was transmitted forward through history by the biwa hōshi, blind biwa-playing itinerant monks who would go about singing stories.
However, Inu-Oh isn’t really about strict adherence to actual history, as you’ll see! The premise is essentially that a radical young biwa player Tomoaru, blinded as a child by an ill-fated attempt to fish up the sword Kusanagi, encounters the mutant son of a noh troupe, who is haunted by the ghosts of the Heike soldiers who perished in the war. The effect of this haunting is to give him a strange body with long, distended limbs; he takes on the name ‘Inu-oh’ meaning ‘King of Dogs’. Inu-oh’s father rejected him, leaving him an outcast, but in Tomoaru he finds another outcast who doesn’t give a shit how he looks.
Our two boys quickly become best bros and driven by the ghosts’ call to tell their stories, invent biwa-based glam rock, creating a sensation as they sing untold stories with elaborate, pyrotechnic-laden preformances of songs such as ‘Burial Mound of Arms’… but in so doing, fall afoul of the new shogunate, as Inu-Oh’s father cannot stand to gain a rival in his rejected son.
Inu-oh is full of some of the most inventive and charming animation of music performances I’ve ever seen. I struggle to imagine how they came up with the ideas that drive this film. It feels like it’s constantly in spellbinding motion. The rougher lines and more detailed designs are a departure from the Flash style that Yuasa’s later films mostly used, much more like the ones in Heike Monogatari, but the young international animators at Science Saru pull it off incredibly.
There’s been much discussion of how to interpret Inu-Oh. Is it about Yuasa himself and his weird career? Is it about the struggles of art in general? There’s a nice review of it over on fufuro; for now I will just say that it reminded me why I love animation. (Also it’s gay as hell. Y’know. Just putting that out there.)
Along side this, I’m going to be bringing back a Yuasa work that I feel like we gave an unfair shake back in the day - Mind Game, animated at Madhouse in 2004 at the very beginning of Yuasa’s rise. Known for its incredibly varied and experimental animation, Mind Game follows a man who fails to intervene against an attempted rape and dies, but after a brief meeting with God, drags himself back to life and begins a surreal journey as he flees from the yakuza. Much of the film takes place inside a whale, where they meet an old yakuza who has lived there for decades, following how the characters and their relationships evolve (which is to say they go fucking nuts) - before an absolutely batshit final sequence as they attempt to make their mistake.
Mind Game notally marks the beginning of the collaboration between Yuasa and the brilliant Shinya Ohira, who provided some of his warping, expressionist rough pencils. It’s got a lot of naked people being flung around, wild smears, bright colours. The simplified designs allow the animation to be all the more creative. It’s hard to find anything to compare it with, really! Mind Game doesn’t feel like a Madhouse work. It only somewhat resembles Yuasa’s later works. If anything it feels like something you’d find on Catsuka at 2am.
So I think it’s about time I revisited it!
I’ve learned a great deal more about animation and its history since I wrote about Yuasa before, and later I’d like to write a more substantial account of his works. But right now, it’s about time we started! Animation Night 150(!) will be going live now at twitch.tv/canmom, with movies due to start in about 15 minutes - I’d love to see you there to see what is probably my favourite movie of 2022! (even though it strictly came out in 2021). see you soon~