The Night Is Short, Walk On Girl (Yoru wa mijikashi aruke yo otome)
Japan (2017) Dir. Masaaki Yuasa
Time is a funny thing. It can make moments in life seem either mind numbingly endless or disappointingly short. Conversely, we could suffer a brief instance of misery or a lifetime of happiness within a singular period. Now imagine experiencing the entire rollercoaster of life events in one very buys night – that is the basic gist of this surreal animation from Japan, I think.
A nameless senpai is at a wedding with his two friends, admiring a girl with black hair – know hereafter as Otome (girl) – from afar, as he has done for a while now, unable to confess his feelings for her. Senpai’s plans to coincidentally be at the same places as the Otome so she’ll fall for him over time is failing badly as she hardly notices his existence so he needs a new course of action.
Meanwhile Otome feels that she hasn’t experienced everything life has to offer, deciding that this is the night to do just that. Possessing an inhuman capacity for alcohol, Otome hooks up with anyone up for a boozy night out which leads her to meeting a whole host of eccentric people whose lives are brightened by Otome’s willingness to try everything, not once putting herself first.
So where is this all going? Good question and one which is very difficult to answer within the confines of a mere online review without recalling every single plot point, most of which are quite bonkers and esoterically random. Deciphering what it all means and the message – if there is one – trying to be imparted here won’t be straightforward for everyone thanks to Masaaki Yuasa’s distinctly quirky and leftfield art style.
Of all the remarkable aspects of this film, topping the list is that it is based on a novel by Tomihiko Morimi and not the product of Yuasa’s overly active imagination. This might not sound like a huge deal but quite a lot of what occurs in this tale just doesn’t lend itself to the written word, unless Morimi actually does describe things like the musical theatre performances in exquisite detail.
Yuasa and Morimi are actually no strangers to on another – Yuasa’s celebrated TV anime The Tatami Galaxy is an adaptation of Morimi’s novel, and this story takes place in the same world. Don’t worry if you’ve not seen Tatami Galaxy, I haven’t either and there doesn’t appear to be any marked relationship or overlapping between the two, which is just as well as there is enough to follow already!
The main thrust of the story, from what I could gather, is about connecting people, be it through love, shared interests, altruism, or even illness. For our two protagonists, they spend most of this eventful evening just missing each other, contradicting Senpai’s plan of conveniently being where Otome is on a grand scale, yet whilst their experiences are separate there is a subtle parallel to them.
At first Senpai surreptitiously follows Otome as she hits the bars looking for fun until a wrong turn see him fall foul of some thugs who steal his trousers and underpants. This is unfortunate for him and we’d hate to be in the same position, but the flipside is that he is essentially stalking Otome which makes him a bit of a creep so maybe he is reaping what he has sown, yet deep down he is just a lonely guy in love.
Otome seems oblivious to the woes of being single, showing no signs of clinging to the notion of meeting Mr Right to complete her life, content with bulldozing her way through life with a full glass in her hand and people to share it with. This positive outlook proves infectious and Otome inspires everyone she meets, from a group of erotic art collectors to guerrilla musical theatre performers and the town God, an elderly man tired of life.
In the midst of winning drinking contests, impressing everyone with a quirky secret club dance and starring in illicit outdoor musical plays, Otome is suddenly thrust back to her childhood recalling a book she used to read and this wave of nostalgia spurs her on to find a copy of it. Meanwhile Senpai learns that the actual book Otome owned is up for sale via a private seller – if he can get the book, Otome will be his.
Being a work of fiction, we are to accept that a covert book sale would be held at night but then again Japan is full of wonders like this. Books are another way that people can be connected, and this point is driven home via a literary dissertation from the God of the Old Book Market, just one of many whimsical characters whose traditional Japanese values are used to hold up a derisive mirror to modern society.
Very loosely, one might see this as a satirical offspring of Miyazaki’s Spirited Away, a young woman in a strange world inhabited by eccentric denizens and a disparate group of people with essential life lessons awaiting them. Both rely on fantasy to allegorise their tales but whilst Miyazaki used his 2 hours perfectly, Yuasa runs out of steam before his 93 minutes are up.
Yuasa’s garish presentation of vivid prime colours, loose art style, psychedelic cutaways, and boundless inventiveness is an assault on the senses yet doesn’t necessarily lend itself to trenchant social commentary. This barrage of mind-bending images obfuscates the narrative, but anime is known for its subversive approach to storytelling – in other words don’t let the zaniness fool you, there is more to this film than meets the eye.
It is easy to have a lot of fun with The Night Is Short, Walk On Girl and not be bothered by the subtext behind this offbeat tale of a fated romance, but if you like your anime to challenge you visually and literally, there is a whole world of wonder for you here.