Ever wish for more adult-oriented anime that doesn’t veer into hentai territory? Sometimes, you’re just not in the mood for candy-colored kink, you know?
Thankfully, there’s a new booze-themed anime from Masaaki Yuasa, known to western audiences for the series Devilman Crybaby and for his jarring merfolk movie Lu Over The Wall. His new one, The Night is Short, Walk On Girl, is a bacchanal in the streets of Kyoto, during which a group of university students and older tagalongs embark on surreal quests like finding a rare children’s book and setting up an itinerant theater production featuring a king, a princess and an inflatable sex doll. (Okay, there is some kink here.)
The protagonist, only known as “the girl with black hair,” is an Amelie Poulain lookalike who, at the beginning of the movie, decides to “plunge into the adult world” by drinking her own weight after a stiff wedding reception. Her love of booze is so intense and innocent that, during her adventures, she says things like “Drinking a cocktail is like choosing a beautiful jewel; they make me feel so extravagant.” She might see herself as an uncultured person who is “as boring as a rice cooker,” but she’s more of a manic pixie dream girl on acid (and with agency) as she frolics from watering hole to watering hole, her proverbial spirits soaring as she engages in drinking contests with oddball characters.
Throughout the movie, she is endlessly pursued through the streets of Kyoto by a cute upperclassman only known as “senpai,” who has developed a very refined pick-up technique called AHO (Appear before Her Often). His quest to find his love interest in the streets of Kyoto is usually thwarted in some slapstick way (his underwear and pants get stolen, etc.).
Other notable merrymakers include Todo, a sleazy but ultimately sympathetic collector of woodblock-print erotica, and a classmate of “senpai” who goes by Don Underwear, a moniker he gained because he had never changed his underwear since he met the alleged girl of his dreams at a school festival. Watching this bizarre cast of characters turn Kyoto into a surreal playground feels like being in an episode of Terrace House gone rogue.
Plot is almost irrelevant in The Night Is Short: what actually animates the film is its off-kilter sense of humor and metaphors. When The Girl with Black Hair arrives at an outdoor book fair, she says she feels like she’s swimming in an ocean of books. Promptly, the metaphor comes to life, and the fair momentarily becomes an underwater kingdom.
The art consists of a lot of flatly, yet brightly colored surfaces; the character outlines are clean, but a little wobbly. Graphically speaking, it’s as if Yuasa combined the styles of Schiele, Andy Warhol and 1970s psychedelic art. It might be a little off-putting for those used to cleaner and more detailed art, such as the hauntingly beautiful backgrounds seen in Studio Ghibli movies. Still, it’s the ideal style for The Night is Short, which, as it progresses, becomes like a Tampopo-esque fever dream, without ever abandoning its urban setting.
Yuasa used the same stylistic and narrative devices for his previous feature Lu Over The Wall, but since that was a movie geared towards a younger audience about a group of teenagers befriending a knock-off version of Ponyo in a sleepy coastal town, it felt like his surreal streak was almost wasted. But The Night is Short shows how off-kilter scenarios work perfectly with more mature storylines. It also shows how anime can be suited for adults without necessarily veering into morbid erotica or psychologically charged drama.
The Night is Short, Walk On Girl screens August 21-22 in select theaters. It will subsequently screen at Metrograph until the 29th. Get tickets HERE