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Night is Short, Walk On Girl (2017)

Whilst a familiar and prolific director of television series, Night is Short, Walk On Girl marks Masaaki Yuasa’s first feature-length film since his 2004 debut Mind Game, which fast became a cult classic, tearing up film festivals and subsequently wriggling its colourful way into the hearts and imagination of many animation fans.

His second time adapting the work of Tomihiko Morimi, Night is Short is a heady, imaginative midnight movie. However, those familiar with Yuasa’s previous work adapted from a Morimi novel, The Tatami Galaxy, are only slightly better primed for the fast-paced madness and hectic story. There are a scattering of familiar faces, but the film is stand-alone.

As a sprawling night becomes a personal odyssey for its main, unnamed character, we follow wayward typical university students (and Gods, naturally) as the wider world beckons to them through bars and wild drinking parties. Some of the students have taken admin roles to super-villain heights, to the extent of employing Wizard of Oz- style monkey spies, others to showing their dedication to drama with guerrilla pop-up performances around the city, and others...don’t really know what they are looking for but enter into each new experience nonetheless with a wide-eyed wonder, one the film shares. It is a rich and riotous tapestry of all the equally mundane and absurd existences that lurk in the lively alleys of Ponto-town, Kyoto.

A refreshing turn for a film centring around young people and drinking, there is a wonder and genuine joy with which alcohol is presented. Like colourful potions opening a world of promise and experience, there is little frank demonisation of alcohol as a mascot of depression or failure. More, it is regarded as a talisman of great philosophers, the adults. Their knowledge of drink and the confidence with which they spout their many (often conflicting) truths dazzles our lead and only stokes the fires in her to join in. Bars are dark, magical mysterious places where characters with secrets reside, messenger gods in the trek toward adulthood.

The headiness, as might be expected, is a perfect showcase for Yuasa’s talents. Morimi’s writing flourish of taking college students and elevating their woes and trials with classical language is something Yuasa hints at in the film’s use of patterns, and beautifully flattened compositions evoking fine traditional Japanese fabrics and sumi-e paintings. The animation style marries wonderfully with the film’s dream-like progression too, carrying us through wondrous and imaginative scene transitions, always ensuring we are never quite sure where we are or from where we have come. There are too many beautiful, expressive animated highlights to mention and fans of Yuasa’s ultra-expressive reveries will not be disappointed.

Yuasa’s sharp wit keeps these visual and thematic cocktails from falling into brooding self-importance though; no character is further than a moment or a drink away from humiliation or self-effacement, a delight which the film regularly employs, often to great comedic effect. This keeps the film’s pace at a good clip and cumulatively makes what is possibly Yuasa’s funniest feature. The cast bumbles through their own woes and shortcomings but there is a lot of love with which their follies are depicted. Whilst the high spirits of drinking parties are celebrated, their insanity is also ridiculed, perhaps nowhere better than in the utterly surreal Dance of the Sophists, a group of would-be philosophers who gather to argue and over-ponder in ways reminiscent of many drunk debates.

Perhaps the most puzzling and complex part of the film, however, is the deceptively simple story of a sempai (senior student) besotted by the unnamed Girl with the Black Hair. Hard to immediately parse, the film has some awareness of the awkwardness as every now and then our focus switches back to the sempai and the Girl with Black Hair is reduced to a goal. His infatuation is simple, and his pursuit is dogged, even leading to bargaining with a god of a book fair for a beloved object from her childhood to gain an ‘in’ through what he persistently tells himself is a ‘coincidence’. His pursuit is almost tragic, bathetic, and that is possibly the refreshing reset point from which they need to set off. The film never manages to resolve this, but that feels less like a shortcoming than an intentional open-end. It isn’t really his film.

She looks towards him like most of her other new experiences, wide-eyed, curious, hopeful. Still, really, just a kid.

FROM Anime Ltd
1hr 33m