Anime visionary Masaaki Yuasa’s first feature since his 2004 breakthrough Mind Game (though kid-friendly Lu Over the Wall made it to the U.S. first), The Night Is Short, Walk on Girl applies the director’s fluid, warped, and dazzlingly colorful trademark style to a fanciful fable about love, fate, and the conviviality engendered amongst heavy-drinking strangers. Unfolding over one improbably eventful night in Kyoto’s riverside Pontocho district, the film tracks the adventures of a young woman (known only as “the black-haired girl”) determined to let “the thread of fate” guide her from one drink to the next, her cheerful optimism seemingly converting the alcohol she imbibes into bursts of pastel-shaded flowers. She’s pursued on this quest by an infatuated older student (referred to as “Senpai”) whose anxiety keeps him from approaching her directly, instead relying on increasingly farfetched coincidences to intertwine his own thread of fate with hers.
The first half of The Night Is Short, Walk on Girl thrives on this unpredictable energy, as both would-be lovers collide with an array of eccentric characters and increasingly bizarre obstacles to overcome. There’s an ancient man named Rihaku, who presides over an enormous, unbearably spicy hot pot and challenges anyone who wants access to his rare collectibles to eat it; a “God of Used-Book Markets” in the form of a prankish kid determined not to let sellers disrupt his “sea of books”; and a guerilla theatre troupe performing a traveling rock opera while staying one step ahead of the cops trying to shut them down. The film’s conceits are often delightful, and Yuasa’s animation remains restlessly kinetic and inventive, lending a charming sense of boundless possibility which, along with charismatic voice performances and a warm sense of place, helps even the more out-there concepts go down smoothly. The episodic structure does grow a bit repetitive after a while, however, and though the spectacular climax will thrill Yuasa fans longing for the hallucinatory highs of Mind Game, it disappointingly retreats into Senpai’s psyche and renders the black-haired girl as the blank-slate crush object her resourcefulness, drive, and “friendly punch” had seemed to subvert. At least The Night Is Short, Walk on Girl is far more visually stimulating and conceptually playful than the average, self-pitying sensitive-guy romance. Plus, how many of those include a character named “Don Underwear”?
Published as part of Japan Cuts 2018.