Sometimes a popular animated film (say, ‘Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse’) kicks in the front door of your brain and strides into the average cinema-goers' consciousness. But sometimes a smaller, lesser-known animated film (say, ‘The Night Is Short, Walk On Girl’) goes out to a bar, has way too many drinks, stumbles home, realises that it can’t find the keys for the front door, and goes back out for a few more late-night adventures, making a lasting impression on the people it encounters along the way.
Based on the romantic comedy novel of the same name written by Tomihiko Morimi and illustrated by Yusuke Nakamura, this insanely charming anime follows a night out in Kyoto for two university students: an unnamed young woman (referred to as Kōhai and The Girl with the Black Hair) and an unnamed young man (referred to as Senpai).
The Girl with the Black Hair (voiced by Kana Hanazawa, ‘Your Name’) is enjoying her first taste of adulthood. For her, that means chugging down all the booze she can find. Throughout the one Kyoto night in which the movie takes place, it becomes clear that her appetite for alcohol is limitless. When she hears a rumor about a legendary liquor called Imitation Denki Bran, she has to sample it. Note: she hears about it from Mr Todo, a sleaze who has lost his carp farm and is trying to pay off his debts by selling antique erotic pictures. Also, she can only get this liquor from a loan shark with a fetish for swiping men's underwear. Plus, an organisation called the Bedroom Investigation Committee lurks in the margins. This is crazy stuff.
After tracking down the loan shark, The Girl with the Black Hair appears at a used book market, where Senpai (voiced by Saitama pop star Gen Hoshino, ‘Mirai’) is bidding on her favourite childhood book to give her as a gift. Once the two characters bump heads, the film shifts gear into a full-blown romantic comedy.
You see, Senpai is infatuated with this girl, and pulls out all the stops in order to throw himself into her path. His near-pathological desperation isn’t supposed to be cool or likable - it's only a propulsive force for the film’s narrative.
The many supporting characters are all odd and fascinating in different ways, from the romantic Don Underwear (Ryûji Akiyama), who refuses to change his undies until he's reunited with a woman he believes he's in love with, or the Director of School Festival Operations (Hiroshi Kamiya), who's engaged in war with the pop-up theatre kids.
The film’s relentless comedy, set to a marching beat that matches its quick-stepping heroine’s, keeps firing weird characters and incidents from all directions. The wacky brand of humour occasionally recalls Woody Allen’s ‘Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Sex’, with a little ‘Monty Python’, William S. Burroughs and Lewis Carroll mixed in for good measure. The onslaught of zany characters, themes and subplots is also reminiscent of writer/director Boots Riley's absurdist ‘Sorry to Bother You’.
The film’s wacky brand of humour occasionally recalls Woody Allen’s ‘Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Sex’, with a little ‘Monty Python’, William S. Burroughs and Lewis Carroll mixed in for good measure.
‘The Night Is Short, Walk On Girl’ shares the same fictional universe and most of the same lead staff as the classic anime series ‘The Tatami Galaxy’, including original author Morimi, original character designer Nakamura, character designer and chief supervising animator Nobutaki Itō, screenwriter Makoto Ueda and director Masaaki Yuasa (whose credits include ‘Lu over the Wall’, ‘Devilman Crybaby’, and Adventure Time‘s trippy 'Food Chain' episode). If you’ve watched any of those pieces of animation, then you’ll get the drift: this film is an erratic and fluid feast for the eyes. Far from any kind of recognisable anime-style, ‘The Night Is Short, Walk On Girl’ pops with an unbridled use of colour and elastic movements for the human figures as they drink, eat and dance. It’s a wholly absorbing visual spectacle.
By the final act, the film’s randomness coalesces into something deeper, assuring those who have fallen for the strange delights of ‘The Night Is Short, Walk On Girl’ that we are all interconnected and that staying in the moment will allow us to live richer lives. Kaleidoscopic, joyous, carefree, heartfelt, hilarious, bizarre and intoxicating, if you only have time to watch a single animated movie, seek this one out.