Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Nippon Reviews: Yoru Wa Mijikashi Arukeyo Otome (The Night Is Short, Walk On Girl)

The Night Is Short, Walk On Girl (2017): Written by Makoto Ueda, directed by Masaaki Yuasa.  Starring: Gen Hoshino, Kana Hanazawa, Hiroshi Kamiya, Ryuji Akiyama, and Mugihito.  Running Time: 93 minutes.  Based on a novel of the same name by Tomihiko Morimi. 

Rating: 3.5/4

            If Yuasa's other recent release, Lu Over The Wall, went a bit too wild for its own good, The Night Is Short, Walk On Girl is the opposite end of the spectrum, where Yuasa manages a perfect balance of his wild instincts and creates a sublime and wholly satisfying experience.  It is zany, packed to the gills, and an absolute visual feast, but also manages to create space for rather profound reflections on the nature of time, innocence and growing up, and the connectedness of all things.  All that, and it's also funny as hell.  

            Our protagonist, known to us only as The Girl with Black Hair, is a blissfully innocent young woman on the cusp of adulthood, and determined to celebrate with a night out on the town, drinking, partying, dancing, and enjoying the company of a massive cast of colorful, memorable characters.  Throughout it all, she is pursued by a shy young man (The Student), sure of his love for her, but utterly at a loss as to how to get her attention other than to manufacture scenarios where they bump into each other "by coincidence," or as he calls it, "Operation Run Into Her Often." 

            We start at a wedding, where both of them are in attendance, and then wander throughout the entire town.  We are treated to settings that include a series of bars, a drinking ship on the river, a book fair, and a student festival, and meet a remarkable variety of people, all in various stages of despair or cynicism of one form or another; despairing groups of student bachelors, despairing old businessmen, despairing perverted collectors of erotic woodprints, the cold and calculating head of an NSA-esque Student Affairs spy network, a selfish and greedy hoarder of rare used books, and, my personal favorite, a veritable army of actors and directors calling themselves the "Guerilla Theater," determined to put on their show all over campus even though Student Affairs keeps chasing them down and arresting their cast and crew members. 

            This wild run-around that supposedly takes up only a single night of this strange city, but this magical night of wonder feels like it stretches out for years on end, a fact commented on by several of the characters, many of whom pine for a "happy ending" to everything.  A dozen different plot points and characters arcs are all tied together in one way or another, and the fact that this film doesn't fly apart at the seams like Lu Over The Wall did is something of a miracle. 

            This elastic nature of time is a repeated theme of the film, with both its visuals and the bizarro rules of physics that govern this world emphasizing the very objective nature of time and its passing.  In one scene, several characters compare watches; that of the girl, the youngest in the group, moves at a snail's pace and her somewhat older drinking buddy's has a more regular tempo, while those of the elderly businessmen spin forward at breakneck speed.  Time, so fickle and so strange, always feels slower for those with more life and so quickly dissipated for those with less. 

            The Student ends up not being the focus of most of the movie, which is for the better, since the real star are the antics surrounding The Girl.  The concept of her character does run the risk of being a bit of a blank slate, or a rather bland Jesus-esque figure (much of the third act involves her administering to the sick throughout town, their ailments practically healed by her touch), or perhaps simply being too innocently naive for her own good.  However, I found this to be the right fit alongside the more pessimistic nature of the world around her.  She literally brightens places up when she appears, and has an instinctive sense of when someone needs help.  This may be a subtle commentary on the film's part that people of all stripes, when they are down, could use a brief return to the boundless optimism of youth to regain their footing in a strange world. 

            The film's sense of humor and anything-goes attitude makes the film a riot, especially an extended sequence where the conflict between the Guerilla Theater and the Student Affairs committee reaches its climax, one of the most consistently funny bits I've seen in a movie this year.  There is also a particular running gag that suggests Yuasa has it in for Sophism, a sentiment for which I have nothing but the deepest sympathy. 

            I was particularly tickled that the movie even manages to find time for a subplot surrounding a hoarder ruining a book fair (complete with the presence of a God of Used Books) that is, effectively, a love letter to the printed word and to the power of books and stories to carry memories and experience through time and connect all those who hold a book over the course of its existence.  It's almost as if this movie was determined to target every one of my particular sweet spots to get to love it. 

            Not that that was ever necessary, because I would have loved this movie even without my Inner Reader being pandered to.  This is a remarkable, adventurous, out-there movie that takes full advantages of the inherent advantages of animation and lets the mind and imagination expand to previously unexplored places of magic and wonder.  This is one of the best films I've yet seen this year.

-Noah Franc

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