It takes a while, but eventually the Japanese animated fantasy “Inu-Oh” becomes a by-the-numbers tragedy about two unsung performers. That’s frustrating given the fundamental disconnect between the movie’s music, which is defined by a brash, anachronistic glam/hair “rock opera” style, and its dance numbers, which pay homage to the mannered and comparatively restrained “Noh”-style of Japanese musical theater. Celebrating a traditional art form by papering over—and in some cases, stifling—its unique qualities isn’t necessarily a grave creative sin. But in this case, modernizing the work of two unsung Noh masters—a talented biwa player and his singer/dancer muse—sometimes proves too distracting.

Some essential liberties had to be taken with “Inu-Oh” since the movie’s a feature-length cartoon version of a novel about a pair of suppressed artists from 14th century Japan. This adaptation of Hideo Furukawa’s book, The Tale of the Heike: The Inu-Oh Chapters, attempts to represent the visceral impact and ultimately eulogize the loss of two singular Noh practitioners, the blind biwa player Tomona (dancer Mirai Moriyama) and the monstrous-looking masked performer Inu-Oh (real-life rocker Avu-chan).

Tomona’s story finds a sense of direction (and some urgency) after he hooks up with Inu-Oh (or “King of the Dogs”), a physically deformed amateur dancer who has one arm that’s several sizes too large and two mismatched eyes that seem to slide off his face like a Cubist painting. Inu-oh has been cursed from a young age, and now the only thing that can heal his tortured body is a series of soul-baring performances, all scored by Tomona’s biwa (and some accompanying taiko drummers).

The iconoclastic reputation these two fast friends develop by making audiences move to the beat of their music inevitably creates tension with a couple of stuffy, vain authority figures, particularly the star performer (voiced by Yutaka Matsushige) at the popular Hie-za theater troupe. Otherwise, a friendship between Tomona and Inu-oh develops during non-musical scenes, most of which are as dramatically flat as any incidental scene featuring Matushige’s character.

Your enjoyment of “Inu-Oh” probably depends on what you’re most focused on during Inu-Oh and Tomona’s musical performances. Most of the music in “Inu-Oh” was sung by Avu-chan, the leader singer of self-described “fashion punk” rockers Queen Bee. The movie’s musical numbers were also directed by the visually restless anime director Masaaki Yuasa (“Mind Game”), whose trippy, dynamic visual sensibility and keen attention to detail are complimented by character designs provided by Taiyo Matsumoto (“Tekkonkinkreet”). Matsumoto’s feather-light style of drawing is distinguished by its unassuming, but deeply felt quirks.

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