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Lu’s charming mermaid tale is too much for just one film

by

Special To The Japan Times

Imagine “Ponyo,” but with a whole lot of dancing. Boiled down, that is what you get with “Lu Over The Wall” (“Yoake Tsugeru Lu no Uta”), the latest addition to director Masaaki Yuasa’s animation legacy.

“Lu” is a charming story filled with fantasy and childlike wonder. Flash animation is used to conjure up the magic and breathe life into the characters.

The story revolves around a sulky teenager named Kai who has a knack for rhythm. Rejected by his mother as a child, he shuns his father and grandfather, in fear of being hurt again. Despite his love for music, his family doesn’t want him to pursue it as a career, causing the initial conflict in the story arc. But eventually, giving in to the persistence of classmates Kunio and Yuho, Kai agrees to team up with the pair and form a band that practices in secret.

Only halfway through their first practice, the music-loving mermaid Lu appears. She is enticed by their instruments and spawns legs (sound familiar?) to dance with. After some experimenting, it is discovered that she can only grow legs when music is playing. Her voice is enchanting and alien-like — so much so that the trio decide to invite her to sing and dance in their band.

What follows is a story that is too big for the big screen. There are too many characters that never get to say their piece, and some whose resolution seems rushed.

A recognizable feature of Yuasa’s past work is his penchant for telling stories in a TV series format, with a large chunk of time dedicated to each character. But with this film, the luxury of time is something Yuasa just doesn’t have. Despite a solid opening sequence and character introduction, there is too much action afterward to keep up with. One moment we are getting to know Kai’s grandfather and his moving backstory, the next we are thrown into the midst of Yuho’s family drama.

This is not to say that the film is bad — I just wish that it was roughly three hours longer. I loved the look and feel of “Lu” so much that I was moved to tears several times. The flash animation style gives the film a fluid watercolor aesthetic. The softness of shapes contrasts nicely with the vibrant color scheme, a mix of fuchsia and icy blue.

Lu, although strange to look at, is a beautifully designed character, and a new take on the classic mermaid. The dancing scenes look straight out of an old-school Mickey Mouse cartoon, right down to the big shoes and exaggerated moves. The music accompanies the images perfectly, with a cover of the song “Uta Utai no Baraddo” (“Singers’ Ballad”) by Kazuyoshi Saito deployed in several scenes of the film, including the climax.

Along with the beautiful imagery and music, the story does not disappoint in the end. Despite coming out wanting to know more about the characters and plot, there is still meaning and value to be found in the tale. I still cared deeply about our protagonist and was brought to tears yet again by the conclusion.

Although the colors and art style may fool you, this film can be enjoyed by viewers of all ages. The ever-expanding imagination of Yuasa caters to those who crave magic, love and mermaids.