(2018—Director: Masaaki Yuasa)
— by Renard N. Bansale —
(out of 5 stars)
Potential spoilers below
Back in mid-May, I reviewed Lu Over the Wall. Months later, I remain pleasantly surprised at its emotion, focused target audience, and musical bounce. The coming-of-age anime film half-marked Japanese director Masaaki Yuasa’s return to the big screen since his 2004 cult feature debut Mind Game and following just over a decade of small screen projects. I wrote “half-marks” because Yuasa had directed another movie that got released in Japan one month prior to Lu Over the Wall. I even urged GKIDS to distribute Yuasa’s other anime feature before 2018’s end.
That film is The Night Is Short, Walk on Girl* (henceforth shortened to Night Is Short) and it could very well go down as one of the best animated films of the 2010s.
A naïve but headstrong and optimistic young woman (Kana Hanazawa), known as “The Girl With Black Hair” (henceforth “Otome”, Japanese for “maiden”), goes on a long night on the town. She interacts with an assortment of eccentric characters. Among these is a male classmate (Gen Hoshino) at her university, known only as “Senpai” (Japanese: “senior”). Senpai has long been smitten by Otome. His best efforts at vying for her affections, however, has amounted to just “Operation A.H.O. (Appear Before her Often)”, so he intends to confess his feelings to her this night. Given his nerves, clumsiness, and all the characters socializing between them, this night could very well end up feeling like a whole year.
If I take slight issue with anything in Night Is Short, it would involve the brisk character introductions of its opening minutes. Yuasa starts his audience at once with Otome at an evening wedding banquet for presumed acquaintances from school. She gulps one of her first drinks for the night, then expresses slight disappointment when her tablemates, already more buzzed than her, request Bireley’s orange soda for the table.
Unbeknownst to Otome, Senpai is already watching her from across the banquet hall. At his table are two school friends who will soon become major supporting players in the story: The first is the School Festival Executive Head (Hiroshi Kamiya), whose good looks and secret crossdressing of female pop culture characters (think cosplaying and Ed Wood rather than The Danish Girl) make legions of his classmates go crazy for him.
That evening, the Executive Head is directing his high-tech and elite campus security guard to investigate and halt the university’s evasive theatre troupe. Rumor has it that the troupe will put on scenes from a “guerrilla musical” at seemingly random school festival spots later that evening. Little does the Executive Head know that the book and songs of this guerilla musical are being composed by “Don Underwear” (Ryuji Akiyama), Senpai’s other school friend at the table. The hefty Don Underwear has vowed not to change his underwear (hence his self-given moniker) until he reunites with his destined love, whom he may have met at last year’s school festival.
Viewers have to retain much of this onslaught of information to comprehend the rest of the anime feature’s runtime. Processing the characters and their respective to-do lists for the night as the opening titles began to roll, I was left wondering how the rest of the movie would proceed. By the time the end credits song began playing, however, I was already making comparisons with Sorry to Bother You, writer-director Boots Riley’s absurdist comedy from a few months ago. With both Night Is Short and Sorry to Bother You, I question whether or not their characters, subplots, and themes all collapse under their own collective weights. That concern becomes moot when I realize that both films have provided me with two of the most entertaining and thrilling viewing experiences of 2018.
Night Is Short succeeds in pinning down a concrete theme for itself and centering it on the two leads. Otome makes up for her naiveté with an assertive optimism for what lies ahead of her in life and what connects her with the characters she meets, be it alcohol, romance, or sickness. As such, she charges through this night like a saintly train. It certainly helps that Otome can drink alcohol like water, the alcohol evaporating from her system like gentle butterflies as seen in the drinking contest between her and wizened local crime boss Rihaku-san (Mugihito).
Senpai, meanwhile, struggles through this night, losing his pants to Rihaku-san, who does this to hapless male strangers as an habitual prank. Once Senpai sets out for a used books market to retrieve Ratatatam, a cherished childhood book of Otome, he rebounds, first jumping into a contest of eating highly spicy foods in Rihaku-san’s black market tent of used books. Later on, he barges into the final scene of Don Underwear’s guerilla musical to act and sing alongside Otome, who was cast at the last second. Even after that glorious scene of seemingly improvised musical numbers (and it is glorious), Senpai undergoes great anxiety when he learns via text that Otome will soon visit him in the morning to treat his sudden cold. The eight-minute sequence that follows is anime’s response to Mother’s fifteen-minute “FULL-BLOWN FRENZY/WAR ZONE” sequence from last year (which later made my top 10 scenes of 2017 list). The dreamed battle between Senpai’s cowboys of instinct and the scrawny perverts of hesitance escalate to a spectacular animated cacophony of young adult nerves.
As we enter the final third of 2018, I stand holding director Masaaki Yuasa and actor Joaquin Phoenix in towering regard. Phoenix has starred in two movies—You Were Never Really Here and Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot—and astonishes with his range in both. (He still has The Sisters Brothers ahead of him.) Likewise, Yuasa has directed two compelling anime features in one year with Lu Over the Wall and especially The Night Is Short, Walk on Girl. It will disappoint—no, infuriate—me if Phoenix misses out on Best Actor notices and Yuasa on Best Animated Feature notices for either of their dual masterful offerings. I beseech the Academy to not overlook these two great artists at the 91st Oscars.
Until then and hopefully long afterwards, we all must move forward a little at a time, cherishing the connections we make along the way.
*The informal Hepburn romanization of the movie’s original Japanese title is “Yoru wa Mijikashi Aruke yo Otome”, which literally translates to “The Night Is But Short, So Walk on, Maiden” (other international title renderings here).
Renard N. Bansale once aspired to become an astronaut, before he found his passion in film discussion, criticism, conducting script-reading sessions of feature film screenplays, and annual Oscar tracking. Hailing from Seattle, WA, Renard graduated from JPCatholic in 2016 with a B.S. in Communications Media (Emphasis in Screenwriting) and is currently pursuing his M.A. in Theology online at the Augustine Institute.
For more movie reviews by Renard, click here.