Gkids’ “INU-OH” Is A Psychedelic Anime Rock Opera With A Powerful Message [Review]


Lost in the Reels video review for inu-oh

In 2017, I saw a little movie called The Night is Short, Walk on Girl and fell in love. Though I haven’t seen any of director Masaaki Yuasas other works, that film alone made me excited to check out his newest creation Inu-Oh. IndieWire has called Yuasa “one of the most creatively unbridled minds in all of modern animation”… and he proves that to be an accurate statement indeed, with this incredibly imaginative and bizarre film. And after Inu-Oh’s credits rolled, all I could think about was how thrilled I was to dive into the rest of this director’s filmography immediately.


Born to an esteemed family, Inu-oh is afflicted with an ancient curse that has left him on the margins of society. When he meets the blind musician Tomona, a young biwa priest haunted by his past, Inu-oh discovers a captivating ability to dance. The pair quickly become business partners and inseparable friends as crowds flock to their electric, larger-than-life concerts. But when those in power threaten to break up the band, Inu-oh and Tomona must dance and sing to uncover the truth behind their creative gifts.


Watching this new anime feature is like a fever dream that you just can’t shake. There were so many moments throughout this movie that I was dumbfounded… And in awe of what was happening up on the screen. The sheer strangeness of inu-oh is going to detract many audience members and I can see people walking out of the theater in droves. Just the unspeakable sight of our monstrous hero with his gourd mask, disjointed eyes, contorting body, and elongated arms will make any squeamish viewer run for the hills. But, if you are willing to open up your mind, to this psychedelic head trip, it will reward you with its many creative riches.


Its hand-drawn animation is nothing short of incredible. With character design by Taiyo Matsumoto (who created one of my favorite anime features Tekkonkin cry) lush watercolor backgrounds and otherworldly expressionism… inu-oh is a true work of art. Just like our characters in this story, who are pushing past the boundaries of what is accepted and considered normal, this film’s visuals are expanding the limits of what this medium is capable of. This is certainly not your typical anime… and though I love me some Miyazaki, Hosoda, and Shinkai… It is just wonderfully refreshing to see something so different like this up on the screen.


What is most powerful about inu-oh is its exploration of the power of storytelling and the distortion of history. In the film, we follow Tomona, a blind biwa priest in medieval Japan who is relegated to re-telling stories “by the book”, as we would say in modern times. But, when he meets the cursed Inu-Oh, who is haunted by the forgotten stories of fallen soldiers… the two make it their mission to share these tales to the masses through song. The importance of artistic freedom is Yuasa’s clear statement here. And how throughout history, the voices of the marginalized have been silenced to paint a false narrative for the powerful. This plight of our two heroes, to share the truth and not let the past become muddled, no matter the consequence, is a captivating one that is impossible not to rally behind.


And you cannot talk about Ino-Oh without mentioning the music. It might come as a surprise to anyone going in blindly… Because the first thirty or so minutes are mostly music-less and straightforward, but this film becomes a full-on rock opera in its last hour. Sung with rage and angst by the lead singer of Queen Bee, Avu-Chan, and vocalist Mirai Moriyama… The soundtrack here is quite stirring. The scenes where our band is playing are visually stunning. And seeing how they bring these shows to life through the means of this dark age is absolutely ingenious.


If I have any qualms with the movie though, it’s that some of these musical numbers overstay their welcome. And while the songs are rousing to listen to, I wish that there was more variety to their sound… because they all kind of blend together by the end. Comparing this with another GKIDS release this year, that also happens to be an anime musical, Belle… I found the soundtrack to be the real highlight of that film, while the story faltered for me a bit. with inu-oh I think it’s the other way around… the captivating story between these two partners-in-crime, along with its messages and themes are the true stand-out here.

While the music is good, I’m not going to be running out to go purchase the soundtrack or anything… though for this film, I don’t think that was the purpose. The songs in this movie are really just intended to make you feel the anger of these tortured souls, and to capture the spirit of rebellion and change… and in that way, they excel in every way.

inu-oh will be released Exclusively In Theaters on August 12th, 2022.

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