Certified critic on Rotten Tomatoes. Member of the Houston Film Critics Society. Also writes for Bounding Into Comics and God Hates Geeks.
Derailing Your Train of Thought with Ingenuity
The Night is Short, Walk on Girl is based on a Japanese novel with the same name written by Tomihiko Morimi with illustrations by the film’s character designer Yusuke Nakamura. The film is directed by Masaaki Yuasa (Mind Game, Lu Over the Wall), who also directed The Tatami Galaxy; an anime television series based on another novel by Morimi. The film follows two unnamed characters in college; a male known only as, “Senpai,” and a female mostly referred to as, “The Girl with Black Hair.” The male has been having chance encounters with the female throughout the school year while passing each meeting off as chance or coincidence. Now that they’re well past the coincidence stage, the male is set to confess his undying love for the female. Meanwhile, the female is determined to drink as much alcohol as she can over a one night period. The film feels like it lasts longer than one evening considering everything that happens and the peculiar and outlandish individuals they meet along the way.
Without ever having seen The Tatami Galaxy, The Night is Short, Walk on Girl is an anime film that is visually unlike any other. Masaaki Yuasa tends to change his style often as Lu Over the Wall looks nothing like this film and Mind Game combined so many different styles. The character designs seem simple yet abstract at the same time. The detail is minimal, but their actions are so fluidly rubber-like that everyone seems to bounce around from one scene to the next. The animated romantic comedy also seems to capitalize on basic concepts and expanding on them. Red faces typically portray someone who is already drunk or sick with a cold as the film depicts its own version of, “time flying,” and, “a sea of books,” with spectacular and imaginative results.
Both Senpai and The Girl with Black Hair have these crazy eventful and overwhelmingly chaotic evenings that eventually intertwine. The female travels down this rabbit hole of cocktails eventually leading her to a secret drink thought of as more of an urban myth known as Imitation Denki Bran. The male gets caught up searching for the female’s favorite book from her childhood in an effort to put the next foot forward in their relationship. This is where the other insane characters come into play. The School Festival Executive Head has an obsession with cross-dressing solely because he likes messing with the same sex. A man has worn the same pair of underwear for an unreasonably lengthy amount of time and refuses to change them until everyone refers to him as Don Underwear. There’s a tengu (a long-nosed goblin) named Higuchi who does nothing supernatural, but eats really spicy food. A God of the Used Book Market simply wants valuable books to be back in circulation at the book market again and a middle-aged pervert named Todo has an erotic illustration collection (or shunga) that leaves erotica collectors awestruck. Lastly and most importantly is Rihaku, a wealthy old man who simply collects desirable items that everyone else wants.
The film plays tug of war with young adults and students on the verge of actually becoming an adult, being alone, and true love. There is a theater troupe in the film that puts on guerrilla performances about The Obstinate King that all circles back to the author of the plays being inspired by an apple falling on his head and the woman sitting across from him at the same time. There’s also a serious devotion to going commando and a lack of underwear. Outside of Don Underwear, Senpai is kidnapped at one point and his pants and underwear are stolen. He spends the first half of the film either naked or in his underwear as ice cream cones are slapped onto his crotch in crude positions.
The journey both characters go through in The Night is Short, Walk on Girl is interesting because even though their destination winds up being the same getting there is so radically different for the two of them. The Girl with Black Hair is always moving forward. She never looks back as she marches from one bar to another during a night of a never ending pub crawl. Eccentricities and unique characters seem to flock to her as she simply drinks to her heart’s content never feeling the effects of the alcohol. Senpai hasn’t ever been comfortable with his feelings for The Girl with Black Hair. He can never catch up to her all night; even when he gets close to the finish line something throws him off track. He tries everything to get the girl to notice him and even loses himself to depression and doubt for a short period of time. They don’t ever seem to meet face to face until he is honest about the way he feels and she realizes that she is lonely despite all the people she knows.
There is a lot to absorb with The Night is Short, Walk on Girl. It is weird and bizarre with funky animation and silliness around every corner (hopefully everyone is doing their best Sophist Dance at this point), but its message is also incredibly pure even if it has trouble depicting that message at times. It’s funny that The Girl with Black Hair acts like a train so often in the film. The anime film feels like the representation of a couple’s train of thought during the first time they meet or their first date. That train may derail from time to time with obstacles and odd figures pulling us in directions we sometimes don’t want to go, but if it’s meant to be we eventually get back on track and move forward towards unknown destinations together with someone that means more to us than any secret drink or childhood book ever could.
© 2018 Chris Sawin