A carp-stealing tornado, an underwear thief, the god of the used book market, the sophist dance and erotic woodblock art: all in one epic night.
The Night Is Short: Walk On Girl, which won the Japan Academy prize for Animation of the year in 2017, is unlike any film you have ever seen. It follows two students, known only as “the senpai” (meaning “the senior”) and “the black-haired girl,” on two separate, intertwining adventures that take place over the course of one surreal night in Kyoto. The senpai, who is hopelessly in love with our heroine, chases after the black-haired girl, who is always one step — or several — ahead of him.
The movie opens at a party at which both of our main characters are in attendance. Afterwards, the senpai follows her, hoping that if they meet at the afterparty the black-haired girl will finally fall in love with him. And then things get weird. The black-haired girl defeats an evil loan shark in a drinking contest. The senpai’s attempt to obtain a picture book to win the girl’s heart is thwarted by the god of the used book market. By the time the school festival terrorist organization that conducts guerrilla theatre appeared, and the film became a musical for about 20 minutes, I felt the need to double check with a friend that I really was watching the movie and hadn’t slipped into a fever dream.
The film’s frenetic progression from bizarre scene to scene works, in part, because the film is so visually gorgeous. Each scene is strikingly rendered in primary colors and the animation style is different from any film, Japanese or American, that I have ever seen. The backgrounds look like watercolor paintings, and I was continuously struck by their beauty. There’s a particularly lovely moment towards the beginning of the film in which the black-haired girl walks in place as a montage of different people and locations flash behind her.
The movie is also hilarious. At one point, the main character tells her friend, “I didn’t know humans could live that long without changing their underwear,” to which he replies, “I immediately became sick, but I am living the best I can.” The film manages to keep surprising you and, as it progresses, it becomes increasingly more absurd and hilariously weird.
The absurdity does at times become too much. The frequent switching between dream sequences and reality is jarring and a little too reminiscent of Disney’s Fantasia for my taste. Despite all its weirdness, however, the film is a love story at its heart. The movie is carried by the likability of its two main characters. The black-haired girl is earnest, compassionate and badass, and it’s impossible not to love her as she drinks her way through Kyoto — just as it’s impossible not to love the very relatable Senpai as he continuously loses his pants and comes up with schemes to win the main girl’s heart. His self-doubt and the roundabout way in which he tries to win the girl’s heart will strike a chord with anyone who has ever had a crush they have not had the courage to act upon.
The Night Is Short: Walk On Girl is crazy, beautiful and extremely fun. Director Masaaki Yuasa’s imaginative storytelling deftly combines aspects of the romantic comedy genre with breathtaking animation to create something completely new. The result succeeds in capturing the feeling of being young, specifically of going out with your friends on one of those nights when you’re not really sure what’s going to happen. If the film is too much at times, at least it is too much of something truly original.
The Night Is Short: Walk On Girl is playing at Cornell Cinema tonight, Thursday, September 27th, at 10pm.
Megan Rochlin is a sophomore in the College of Engineering. She can be reached at mjr395