Masaaki Yuasa’s surrealistic period drama commences the 2023 Rooftop Cinema series at MMoCA on August 10 at dusk.
Glamour is timeless, even if the details of its definition morph over time. As one of the most powerful cultural forces, glamour has always been subject to control and debate as to who is fit to wield it. Luckily, it’s hard to deny when you see it, and it can come from anywhere. This more or less informs the heart of Inu-Oh (2021), Masaaki Yuasa’s anime glam-rock musical set in ancient Japan, the Japanese-language version kicking off Madison Museum of Contemporary Art (MMoCA)’s 2023 Rooftop Cinema series on Thursday, August 10, at 8:20 p.m. Tickets are $7, but free for MMoCA members.
We follow Tomona (who later rechristens himself Tomoichi and Tomoari at different points in the story), a young boy who is blinded by a cursed artifact unearthed in the pursuit of political power. He joins a group of priests who play the guitar-like biwa, and travels to the seat of the city, where he then meets another cursed figure who eventually takes to calling himself Inu-Oh (literally, dog king). This new friend has magically-induced deformities like an extra-long arm and a masked, cubist face. Both Tomona and Inu-Oh both learn to use the things that make them outcasts to put on a great show (a precursor to Noh theater), which attracts the attention of the masses.
Yuasa, who’s known for zany adventures like Mind Game (2004), drew musical inspiration from glam-rockers of the ’70s and ’80s, who also happened to play it fast and loose with gender presentation. It’s not hard to see why many fans and critics have read a trans allegory in the story of two people who find each other on the margins of society, and then reshape it by renaming themselves and redefining their roles. (Inu-Oh’s body also transforms the more confident (and popular) he becomes in his singing and dancing.)
The animated odyssey features Yuasa’s trademark fluid and surreal animation that showcases the strengths of what the medium can pull off (dating back to Mind Game, but also more recent efforts like Night Is Short, Walk On Girl and Devilman: Crybaby). Music by renowned composer and experimental multi-instrumentalist Otomo Yoshihide, as well as vocals by actor and musician Avu-Chan (of Queen Bee) for Inu-Oh, also shine. When Inu-Oh draws in the crowd with previously untold war ballads like “The Burial Mound Of Arms” or the climactic “Dragon Commander,” the imagined flashbacks of battles are spliced in with the stage show.
Altogether, it’s the perfect way to spend a midsummer night, with the rooftop environment even set up to accommodate audience members getting up to dance along with the onscreen crowds getting swept up in the stories of Inu-Oh.