Night Is Short, Walk On Girl

Reviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 08/02/17 23:38:45

"May be short, but it's packed with delight."
5 stars (Awesome)

SCREENED AT THE 2017 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: The first of two animated films by director Masaaki Yuasa at this festival is a delightful, fast-moving story of alcohol, used books, guerrilla theater, and the possibilities of youth, right up to the fantastic and seemingly impossible as college students try to arrange their own fates. It's exhilarating to watch even if that sort of thing isn't necessarily one's cup of tea; Yuasa packs its ninety minutes with energy and imagination that constantly surprises but always has something that feels real at its heart.

It starts at a wedding reception in Kyoto's Ponto Town with two students at tables on the opposite ends of the room: The Girl With Black Hair (voice of Kana Hanazawa) is a friend of bride Noako and close to the main table; an upperclassman or senpai (voice of Gen Hoshino) who has had a crush on her for the past two years, staging "accidental" meetings so that she would eventually think them seeing each other everywhere was fate, is across the room, scheming to be seated at her table for the after-party. She doesn't go to that party, though, instead finding a bar where she is first accosted by older lech Todo-san (voice of Kazuhiro Yamaji) - easily dealt with via the "friendly fist" - and then joins up with classmates Higuchi (voice of Kazuya Nakai) and Hanuki (Yuko Kaida) for a night of bar-hopping that will involve a drinking contest with the mysterious Rihaku (voice of Mugihito), a trip to the open-air book fair, and meeting other friends at the school festival, with enough madness to make this night seem to cover months, while Senpai frantically follows and finds his attempts to gain attention and favor foiled by increasingly bizarre circumstances.

That The Girl and The Senpai aren't given names is an indication of how quickly-sketched many of the film's characters are, but they nevertheless become more they seem at first glance. That's a good thing, because Senpai initially comes off as a stalker while The Girl is rather idealized even without the story being told from his point of view. Still, screenwriter Makoto Ueda (working from a novel by Tomohiko Morimi) makes sure that nobody is just there to be a creep or perfect, something that especially comes to the fore in the last act, when what seemed like a tossed-off line about "Don Underpants" (voice of Ryuji Akiyama) not changing his shorts until he finds the girl he fell for at first sight actually starts driving a lot of the plot but it's okay, because these side characters make the same sort of impression as the leads.

It's done in a fun blend of styles that looks crazier than it might actually be - those who remember Mind Game won't be surprised that its director makes enough use of the medium of cel-style animation to distort reality or deform faces to express strong emotion, but there's a lot of simplicity at the core to make it work: The Girl is drawn like an Tezuka princess with button eyes and simple but stylish fashion sense, and stays on-model for most of the movie - she is kind of a level-headed ideal that can handle things without issue, so we're allowed to lock in and fixate on her like the Senpai does, while he gets his share of wild takes and cartoon effects. The more fanciful elements get simpler but more outrageous designs, and there are little effects that say a lot: Nobody just sips drinks, but they take big gulps that stretch necks to twice their size and bounce as they settle into the stomach; they're doing what they can to get all they can out of life. The simple, hand-drawn style occasionally gives way to bold, colorful flash animation that looks made out of bright construction paper, always inventive and free-flowing, a delight.

Mostly, though, is the energy of the film that works for me, how it goes from one chapter to another without feeling like it's stopping and restarting, but instead refreshing; each of its three or four acts builds on the previous one but is it's own adventure that has something upbeat and hopeful in each; the God of the Used Book Fair may not be the greatest character but he gets at something true (while subjecting the Senpai to embarrassing comedy), and the musical numbers in the school festival segment are downright hilarious. Anything goes but it's all connected.

That willingness to change things up helps "Night Is Short, Walk On Girl" maintain its feeling that nights like this can seem to stretch on forever but are over all too quickly, much like youth itself. Yuasa has made a live wire of an animated film that nevertheless has a big heart, one where romance and friendship can be great adventures.

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