ComingSoon Senior Editor Spencer Legacy spoke to Inu-Oh director Masaaki Yuasa about the music of the upcoming film and the process of working on films compared to television series. Inu-Oh will premiere in theaters across North America on August 12.
“Inu-Oh is born with unique physical characteristics, and the horrified adults cover his face with a mask,” reads the film’s synopsis. “One day, he meets a boy named Tomona, a blind biwa player, and as Tomona plays a delicate song, Inu-Oh discovers an incredible ability to dance.”
Spencer Legacy: What inspired you to base a film on Hideo Furukawa’s Heike Monogatari novel?
Masaaki Yuasa: This project was brought on by the company Asmik Ace, but when I read Mr. Furukawa’s novel, I read that it was a story about a noh performer who lived in the Muromachi era, and I thought that was very interesting. Also, Inu-Oh actually existed, but only his name remains in history. None of his performances or music remain, or there are no records of him. I thought that was really interesting.
Noh tells us a lot of stories about dead people or samurai. I thought it was interesting that those stories still remain, even in the present time, but there are no stories about what the peasants were like during the time, or even about what the performers were like at that time. So I think how Mr. Furukawa picked up on that story and wrote about it was very interesting. To make that into an animation film has a lot of meaning to me.
Inu-Oh focuses on the beautiful friendship between Tomona and Inu-Oh, but quite a lot happens around them. How did you keep this bond at the center of the film?
The fact that they have a strong connection was really what I focused on. I think even meeting someone who could be a creative partner to you is very rare, but very miraculous and great. For example, for The Beatles, how John Lennon and Paul McCartney met, it’s similar to that kind of vibe, having a creative partner.
So even though The Beatles disbanded, the fact that they met each other was really important and made a big impact. For Inu-Oh and Tomona, even though they only shared a short time together, the fact that they were able to meet, able to understand each other creatively, and achieve a lot is what really inspired me.
What was it like to work with Avu-chan again on Inu-Oh?
It was very fun working with Avu-Chan. They gave a lot of ideas, even during recording. So I felt like I was just watching how the story or the character evolved while recording. Also, Avu-Chan’s acting skills had improved from last time. I mean, Avu-Chan was still good before, but it had really improved. I was really surprised.
What was the process of working with Yoshihide Otomo like, since music is so important to the film?
Mr. Otomo … I really love him as a composer. Although I had a very hard time communicating on what I wanted in the music from him, once the animation was more, uh, developed, he worked really hard to come up with the music that masked my animation.
To make rock music using the instruments that they had in the Muromachi era … I think it was really hard for him to imagine, or what he thought was rock from that kind of instrument was different from what I wanted. So once the animation came along, he was able to understand what I wanted more, and then it really turned out into what came to be.
How did your previous projects prepare you for Inu-Oh?
I think the fact that I was able to be open-minded and adaptable really helped out in making this film. I wasn’t really focused on just getting the results but being able to change depending on the situation. So if this doesn’t work, let’s go for this thing, if this doesn’t, that doesn’t work, then let’s go try it a different way.
So what I had imagined in my head as the music … I was trying to look for in Mr. Otomo’s process of composing. That goes the same for the animation. I try to like change and adapt and then that’s also the approach that I had when directing the voice actors as well.
What message do you hope that people around the world take from Inu-Oh?
Even though the story is set a long time ago in history during the Muromachi era, I think what we picture as the Muromachi era was very dark and bloody and gory. I really hope that people realize, no, there are people like who lived at that time who were just like us, who experienced and felt just the same way as us.
I also hope the viewers, when they watch the performance scenes, get just as excited as the audience in the movie and become one with the performance. Finally, I hope that people are free to live the way they want, as they want, and for everyone to find someone who understands you.
You’ve had such a long, incredible career in different mediums. Do you prefer working on TV series or films?
That’s actually a hard question to answer, because in TV series, there’s a lot more collaboration with a lot more people, and to manage everybody into creating one series is what I try to do when I work on a TV series. Whereas with film I do work more individually, but I also want to make all of the other staff’s work shine. So the way I approach them is very different.
Also, there’s a case between having an original story or having something based on a novel or manga. For me, whether it’s original or based on something, the schedule that they give me is the same. So I wish I had more time to work on an original. Having said that, I really think I like trying to manage the time and everything that’s thrown on me at me. Regardless of the situation, the challenge of making it work within the situations that I’ve given is really fun for me.
What was it like to receive such critical acclaim when Inu-Oh premiered at the Venice Film Festival?
Because it’s such a hard material that’s shown in the movie, “how much did they understand” is always a question for me. So every time we’ve been showing it at festivals, I’m always curious about how the audience reception is. In regards to Venice, I think that even though it might have been difficult to understand, they took it in well and appreciated it.