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‘Inu-Oh’ Director Masaaki Yuasa On Exploring Undocumented Possibilities For A “Modern Interpretation Of Old Tales”

For Inu-Oh, director Masaaki Yuasa’s main goal was not to accurately depict the past as it is written, but to depict what could have happened. Based on the novel Tales of the Heike: Inu-Oh by Hideo Furukawa, the film follows two outcasts in 14th-century Japan: Tomona (Mirai Moriyama), a blind Biwa player, and Inu-Oh (Avu-chan), a deformed Noh dancer born with a curse. The two discover they have the ability to hear the spirits of the Heike, a clan of warriors whose stories are lost to time, and the pair begin to perform their stories in a new style resembling modern hair metal, which starts to cure Inu-Oh of his curse. The idea of a curse being cured resulting in the main character becoming human again is popular in Japanese folklore, but Yuasa wanted to have a more modern take. Rather than seeking revenge against his father for cursing him, Inu-Oh is performing simply because that’s what he wants to do, which gave birth to a more carefree character.

Inu-Oh

DEADLINE: What inspired you to make Inu-Oh?

MASAAKI YUASA: It’s a story from history, but I feel like the people back then maybe had a similar idea to how we’ve been thinking more lately. If we just create stories from whatever documentation we have, then maybe that would be a little too orthodox. So I used my artistic freedom to convey how they used to be. If we create a story from what we know from reading historical books, then it wouldn’t be this way. So I did research a lot, but then I explored a lot of possibilities.

So, for example, there used to be only be like two or three ways to dress, but I felt like maybe there were more. Also how they used to act back then, it could be different from what we have read, like dancing and music. I used a wide variety of possibilities that could be there. Think about this – a thousand years from now, people in the future might only know two or three songs from our era, but that’s not true, right? I feel like there were a lot of things that weren’t recorded back then, but they could have existed.

DEADLINE: Can you talk about mixing rock music with Noh theater in 14th century Japan?

YUASA: Rock and roll is sort of like the lower class rising up, so that’s why I wanted to use it. And I wanted the audience to have a lot of surprises with the art. Not just what we know, but there could be all these different modern music styles back then. Maybe, for example, Jimi Hendrix, he is the one that we say started playing the guitar on his back, but that was in America, maybe that also existed back then. In China, there are some drawings that could be similar to how he was playing the guitar, so you never know what was actually true back then. We just know what we know, so I wanted the audience to think that there are so many possibilities of how people used to be, historically.

Inu-Oh

Actually, one of the themes that I was hoping to convey in this film was how in the modern life we tend to judge people or other cultures from small pieces of information that have been blown up. It might not be true, but people actually believe in it. So, I really want people to have more imagination and don’t just believe in what you see.

DEADLINE: Can you talk a bit about how the character design of Inu-Oh changes throughout the film?

YUASA: It’s sort of inspired by Japanese fairy tales. But originally… there’s a manga artist named Osamu Tezuka, who had this piece called Dororo. And in that, the main character gets into a more human body as the curse goes away from him, so it’s sort of like that. But Inu-Oh is a little different because he’s not really feeling down or anything, he’s just having a great time performing. And when he does that, all these Heike spirits love to see him perform, so they get happy and they rest in peace. So, it’s a little more modern interpretation of old tales in Japan. He not trying to get revenge against his father for his curse, he’s just having a great time dancing. A lot of tales end with the main character becoming more human, or more normal from their abnormality, and it’s a happy end because they become human, but this one is different. He’s just doing what he wants to do, he’s really straightforward and there’s nothing confusing about him. So, he’s purely inspired by just the fun of what he does, which is dancing, and he becomes very successful without really wanting fame or anything. Other people, like his father, wanted the popularity and wanted to be the star, and those are the people that don’t get the fame or any happiness at the end.

DEADLINE: How do you choreograph and animate these very long musical sequences?

YUASA: In the original story, it didn’t really say it but I did hear that there used to be a lot of singing and dancing. It’s sort of like the musical in modern life and it’s not too quiet, so I wanted to express that fun part of Noh as well. I first wanted this to be like a musical show, like a concert, which would be really exciting for the audience. And the composer of all these musical sequences was a little bit confused in the beginning, so he was having a hard time starting to compose. So, I actually gave him an animation sample of the visuals. And with that, he actually made the music that’s totally like right on. I loved it. And we started working on the musical sequences, so we would add more visuals and then the composer would add more music. So, it was sort of like a session music, like improvisation sessions in a way.

Click below to see a clip of Yuasa drawing Inu-Oh.

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