Japanese animation has long had the ability to get weird when it wants to. Unlike the more traditional storytelling used in American cinema, Japanese animation takes big risks. This can sometimes bring films and ideas into odd areas of exploration that can bring audiences to interesting places. In the case of GKIDS animation, the studio brings many underseen, yet interesting animated features, into the limelight. “Night is Short, Walk on Girl” certainly qualifies as one of those features, again featuring excellent animation and a very interesting use of color. However, the rambling and unclear narrative occasionally hold the story back, resulting in a mixed bag.
“Night is Short” marks the second film in 2018 from Masaaki Yuasa, whose previous feature “Lu Over the Wall” was family friendly and among the best technical works in animation this year. This time, Yuasa tells a far more adult story. “Night is Short” follows two young college students over the course of the evening. Almost a “Nick and Nora” style narrative takes some drastically weird and silly turns, crafting a far more adult story that has more in common with “Sideways” than “Frozen.” The unnamed woman, referred to as “Otome,” goes out for the night and finds herself in drinking competitions, fighting off sexual predators, and appearing in a pop-up play. Meanwhile, “Senpai,” an also unnamed upper-classman at the same school, tries to find a book for her and prove his love.
The set-up sounds weird. The twists and turns are even weirder. Rather than simply tell a story about two star-crossed lovers who cannot meet up, we literally explore abstract concepts through the use of animation. One in particular towards the end of the film makes for some very interesting animation and action set pieces. As Yuasa stretches what is possible to craft visually, the story struggles to keep up. That might be the weakest part of the film because nothing we’re told is anywhere near as interesting as what we are watching.
Unlike “Fireworks” from earlier this year, this feature at least attempts to have women take agency. While “Otome” is unnamed for the majority of the film, she does not let men push her around. Each decision she makes comes from her own push, even as she punches a man out who attempted to grope her. Her story feels similar to the manic pixie dream girl fantasy, but in the context of animation in 2018, she stands out as one of the more level headed women.
There is a real chance that Yuasa is on his way to becoming one of the top two or three Eastern-born animators of all time. He seems tuned into the power that animation can have to experiment, and once again takes advantage of that here. Like in “Lu Over the Wall,” he uses color unlike any western directors. In some scenes, he bleaches out characters to help the pinks and teals pop. Even in his animation of binge drinking, you have to admire the way in which the liquid moves in the glass, especially given the hand-drawn element. He may not be Miyazaki as a storyteller, but as a visual artist is one to keep an eye on.
While “Night Is Short, Walk On Girl” may be too weird for most, it deserves to hear its praises sung. Featuring a strong woman as a rebuff to traditional anime issues, it serves as a funny and fancy romantic narrative. The bright colors will burn images into your mind, and the experimentation should inspire future animators. Yuasa once again scores with a fun, if not inappropriate, night out on the town.