From a list of more than ten shows I’m watching in the Autumn/Fall 2017 season, Inuyashiki continually makes me think the more than any other. Now, that does not necessarily mean I think it is the best. But, often incitation of thought is what I’m searching for… maybe above all else. I believe that a concrete requirement of an artistic medium is for it to make you think; to make you think in new ways, and with new perspectives that may never before have seemed obvious. The great thing about Inuyashiki is that it offers you the option to think in many ways, not just one.
Setting the Scene
In any narrative, setting the scene is vitally important; initially, more than anything else. Especially in visual mediums like anime and film, this is done at the beginning of a scene, usually using what is called an establishing shot – setting where and when we are, giving the viewers exposition – an inclination on how we might want to feel, given the current situation.
The same can be said for characters; for their characterisation.
In literature, there are two ways of relaying information to the reader; through passive and active means. Passive is given directly through the narrator – we’re told what is what, and who thinks what. Active is derived through the characters, (mainly the focal character) and through their interactions with other characters, and the world around them. It can be summarised as ‘show not tell.’ Not that it’s always a negative to show, just that by revealing information in an active way, we get to know the character on a much more personal level.
At first, Inuyashiki is completely unassuming. We follow Ichiro, (a man in his late fifties, who in fact looks seventy…) who has been diagnosed with a swift, and incurable form of cancer; he loses hope in his world. But this only occupies a minority of the first episode. For it is not important to know where he has come from and who he is, but where he is going and who he will become.
Inuyashiki is a story of character, of morals, and of doing what one believes is right. It’s about finding balance and recompense, in a world in a world that is lacking in the two. It’s about personal experience, and making decisions based on this. It’s not about good vs evil, because there are no such concrete distinctions in the real world.
Creating Reasons to Care
Inevitably we – the majority of us – feel emotion when we’re told a person is certainly going to die – even if that person is fictional. Therefore, we sympathise with the sadness in Ichiro, with how much pain it causes him to know, and to know alone; whilst being unable to tell his frankly disrespectful and negligent family. Because, for Ichiro and many of the older generation, society doesn’t see you – even recognise that you exist, that they are people, and that they were once young too. Ichiro is young once again. He realises it is something he cannot waste.
With Ichiro’s new body, comes a new worldview. He is no longer the frail older man who had little time left to live. Instead, possibly the strongest, the most adept, and the most unique ‘person’ in the world. Though the idea of ‘person’ is an abstract thought here. Is Ichiro the same? Can a person still be identical without their own body? How does this change their identity, or is it only the brain that contains the notion of what it is to be human? Could you fundamentally question whether Ichiro and Hiro are human?
What is not questionable is we perceive Ichiro and Hiro as human, and therefore we attribute human values and qualities to them. This is why many narratives make use of ‘monsters,’ because they are not human, because we cannot easily sympathise with them, with things that have never existed, things that have never being experienced.
Hiro is a monster in terms of ideology, but he is still human, and he remains relatable, regardless of his changing self – the change that his childhood Naoyuki witnesses first-hand. Despite this, we are clueless to his motives, we’re not sure even he understand them, beyond the desire to kill. Something each of us have felt to varying degrees. However, in light of a conscious, these are feelings that are just that… feelings. So, does Hiro posses a conscious? Does he feel anything at all? The only times we see an inkling of this are in moments with Naoyuki, and his mother.
What Makes us ‘Uneasy?’
Humans get scared, just like any other living creature on Earth. It’s in our natural instinct to survive, no matter what.
So, what makes us scared? Clowns? Lunatic woodsmen with chainsaws? Spiders? Capitalism? The possibility of being murdered by a robot-man? It’s not that Inuyashiki is ‘scary’ per se. However, it is very close to home. And, often things that are subtle, but relatable in their fear, instill a deep sense of unease in us. In the same way that Chucky isn’t ‘scary,’ but films like The Shining, Psycho, and Get Out are. Because, they are closer to home, they could happen in our reality. This is what causes fear in us. In realising, no matter how remote, it might happen to us. We might be a part of something that could tear our world to tiny pieces.
Inuyashiki is not horror, that’s for sure. It is action/drama, and in some loose sense, slice-of-life. Though, however useful genre is in defining something, it is not always applicable in all cases. Very rarely something fits into one genre, more likely spanning over a number. Because, for a show to be succesful, and for it to appeal to more than a singular group of people, it has to be at least partially diverse in what it offers.
I cannot help but feel moved whilst watching Inuyashiki, and not in a comfortable way. It’s that sense that something is just around the corner, something we can never expect nor understand in any rational sense. Much like that tapping you’re not sure you hear in the middle of the night, or walking into a room to notice an open door that you were sure you closed.
Being Subtle is a Fearful Thing In Itself
Hiro is the antagonist. But what’s more interesting, is that’s he’s not simply a stereotypical villain. This is because he has more than one side; he’s not built on 100% evil. This enables us to feel something for him – even for the person who, without thought, murdered an entire family. And, this scares us; the notion that we may relate – even in the smallest ways – to a person who could do this. It’s psychological, in the sense that it makes us think, and it makes us wonder what we might be capable of, especially if we were granted the same kind of body as Ichiro and Hiro are.
What would you do with it? Good? Bad? Nothing…?
When people are given an opportunity, they either spring, or they don’t. It’s a difference in personality, in what one feels comfortable doing, and what one doesn’t. From Hiro’s backstory, it’s understood that he is a somewhat troubled person, but of course, this is no excuse for the things he does – the things that are inherently monstrous. And yet, we’ve all seen hundreds of films exploring murder; in a way, we’ve become desensitized to the act of it. For it is not the act in Inuyashiki that instills us with that sense of sublime unease, it is the character surrounding the act – Hiro. The way in which his mentality is portrayed, often unmoving and nihilistic. It makes us wonder, what made him snap? What made him feel the need to kill dozens of people?
Could that thing be dormant in ourselves, no matter how slim the possibility? It is this subtle suggestion, this hint of irrational, demonic humanity that gets our hearts beating, and gets our minds wondering… what if…?
It’s in asking this question what makes Inuyashiki so brilliant. In asking… Who am I?
What do you think of Inuyashiki, and the themes it presents?
Thank you for reading, as always!
-Chris (Follow me on Twitter, and consider supporting Peach’s Almanac on Patreon!)