Features | Written by JAMES "MAGIC" PERKINS 27/09/2022

Masaaki Yuasa | INU-OH

To celebrate the release of Inu-Oh on September 28th, we sat down with legendary Japanese director MASAAKI YUASA to talk about the musical rock opera epic.

STARBURST: Congratulations on the film. I loved it, I thought it was such a vibrant and interesting way to tell the story of Tomona and Inu-oh's fight against a higher power using music and dance.

MASAAKI YUASA: Thank you so much.

As this is the first time we are getting to speak with you we are just wondering what was it that really inspired you all those years ago to pursue a career in this wonderful, vibrant and expressive art form.

I liked anime when I was a child, and when I was in junior high school, there was an animation boom in Japan in the 70s and 80s, so I was looking to get into animation and I realised that you do it as a job. I wanted to do drawings to start with for animation.

We are big fans of your work; especially Eizouken. What stands out to us is that each of your films feels truly unique yet also very much a Masaaki Yuasa project. How do you think you manage to achieve that near-impossible task of making each project feel special in its own way?

I really wasn't thinking of becoming a director to start with and maybe that's why I think I don't have a particular style as such. All I can say is that I take influence from everyone that I've met along the way and all of the people that I work with - as I also wasn't ever planning to write a script. But in recent years when I've seen the reactions or feedback from people, I've started to think "how can I make more things that people will like?". Also, another thing I like to think of when adapting someone else's story is how can I bring the best out of it or how can it bring the best out of the people that I work with. At the end of the day, it is all fun so whenever I get a new project I always want to do something new, fresh and exciting.

What was it about the story of Inu-oh that made you want to tackle this in your classic way?

Actually, what happened was that someone brought the source material into the office and after reading it I realised I had never made a period drama as a director. So I got curious and interested in doing that. And I had wanted to do that for a while so it was a great chance to do that. Also, what's interesting about it is that Noh as we know it was actually different when it started out so I wanted to tell a version of that history. The best thing about this story is the main character, obviously, he is in this difficult situation but he is resilient, strong and full of humour and he's just going directly to his dream. Obviously, when I'm working on my projects, there are things that I struggle with but I think about him as my motivation.

Although there a many fantasy elements throughout your films, there are always deep important messages and relatable characters. Is that something that you’ve always enjoyed about the media of film?

Yes, it was enjoyable and I think in my recent works, all of the themes are in a way synchronised with what I was feeling at the time. I think my direction is clearer if that makes sense. Therefore, this was easier to make and I was feeling more motivated. I'm happy if the audience feels the same way and connects with the film.

You co-wrote the film's amazing songs with Avu-chan, what were some of your favourite moments during that process?

I like music but I'm not really knowledgeable about it, so it was really hard to communicate what I wanted to be honest. This was the hardest project of mine in terms of music - I never had issues in my previous films. So because this is a period drama, we were thinking of using classic music and instruments, but it wasn't necessarily the direction that I wanted to go with. So the communication in the collaboration was the hardest part. So what I did was make the movie a movie first, and then try to convey what I wanted to say through the music second. The background music was perfect for the first song, we never had to discuss anything for that one but songs with lyrics was really hard.

We love how some of the music set pieces were inspired by real-world events and iconic moments and bands including Queen's "We Will Rock You" - at least that's what we got from it. Was it always the plan to blur that line between history and modern times in a fictional fashion?

Because there is no recording of music from that time period, we don't actually know what they sounded like and also the theme of the film is the world is bigger than we can imagine - so I thought that some modern music may be better suited to the theme. Also, rock was the best genre to show what the characters' lives were like and what they were going through.

What’s your favourite song or moment from the film?

I really like the very first track in the film, the background track, it really speaks to me. And the scene involving the whale, without spoiling, was really great too.