Anime director Masaaki Yuasa’s recent movie Night Is Short, Walk On Girl, in U.S. theaters August 21, has all the adventure of a night high or drunk in a foreign city with none of the depravity.
The romantic comedy follows a pack of teens out on the town, and swaps between the perspectives of two potential lovers known only as “the girl with the black hair” and “senpai.” The girl with the black hair is eagerly drinking in her first taste of adulthood. For her, that means all the booze she can find. Throughout the one Kyoto night in which the movie takes place, it becomes clear that her stomach is bottomless. Senpai, on the other hand, is enamored of this girl and does everything he can to put himself in her way as much as possible. He desperately wills himself into her life, at every moment he can, in the hope that that he can force the match to be fated.
The night kicks off when the girl, sitting at a bar, hears about some legendary liquor called Imitation Denki Bran. The only guy who’s got it is a loan shark who travels around in an extravagant three-story train and steals men’s underwear. After tracking him down, she appears at a used books market, where senpai is bidding on her favorite childhood book to give as a gift. At the market, the characters encounter some guerilla theater, which, once they get involved in the storylines, throws them into a true-to-form romantic comedy. Then, all the plotlines converge, as they would in any romantic comedy, but with total unpredictability.
Watching Night Is Short, Walk On Girl, I never once felt conscious that I was sitting on a couch watching a movie. It’s completely absorbing. And that’s not just because of director Yuasa’s signature stylized, psychedelic animation sequences, which, here, are kicked up a notch. (If you’ve seen Devilman Crybaby, then down a notch.) The movie’s absurd animation and engrossing plot are broken up by plain good monologue writing. Two moments in particular stand out. One is a lecture from a shark-toothed kid who calls himself the god of the used books market. His speech is all about how books connect everything. In the lecture, he manically describes the international and trans-historical lineage of writers, references and ideas found in the market, with the charisma of an English professor whose classes instantly fill. The second stand-out monologue, from Senpai, is a little more philosophical. He asks, of the girl with the black hair, “How is it that men and men get together?”
“This pure, poetic love you demand, isn’t it impossible from the beginning? The more we analyze our own will and consider each part, don’t we become more unable to move forward? Whether it’s sex drive, vanity, popularity, an illusion, or idiocy, even if you take in every part, and what you have left is heartbreak hell, you should spring for that darkness!”
Sure, Senpai’s logic is flawed. He’s not a likable character. What makes him unlikable, counter-intuitively enough, is why he’s relatable. Desperation isn’t cute, but it sure makes for a good driving force in a movie.
Another thing working in Night Is Short, Walk On Girl’s favor: characters with real character. It’s impossible to accuse anyone in the movie of being a simple plot device or a trope. There’s Dom Underwear, who hasn’t changed his underwear since he met the girl of his dreams; an old man who expertly collects erotic woodblock prints; the school festival executive head, who is beautiful but, also, fiercely authoritative; there’s a dentistry student who is wise beyond her years in partying. All of these characters are catalysts for the girl with the black hair’s first foray into adulthood which, in Night Is Short, Walk On Girl, is only youth, unfettered and with booze.
Night Is Short, Walk On Girl is one of the best recent anime movies. It’s also simply one of the best movies I’ve seen in years. It moves with a steady rhythm of humor, romance and fantasy. It will be in U.S. theaters August 21 and 22.