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Anime’s Masaaki Yuasa directs a dream with ‘Night Is Short, Walk On Girl’

by Samantha Cubbison

Tomihiko Morimi’s novel “Night Is Short, Walk On Girl” (Japanese title: “Yoru wa Mijikashi Aruke yo Otome”) is set in the same universe as its predecessor, “The Tatami Galaxy” (“Yojohan Shinwa Taikei”), and is the latest to get the anime treatment by Masaaki Yuasa’s Science Saru animation studios. This film, however, focuses a bit less on the male protagonist known only as “Senpai” and more on his love interest, “Kuro Kami no Otome” (the Girl with Black Hair). Notice the lack of identity beyond simple attributes? It’s a way to make the story as generic as possible, though the film ends up being anything but.

While there have been negative rumblings from some online fans with regards to the film’s length (93 minutes) and perceived disconnect from reality, these elements are precisely what makes “Night Is Short” work.

The story follows our heroine on an extremely long night of bar hopping, father-daughter drama and maybe — just maybe — romance. Senpai follows his black-haired beauty throughout Kyoto, though she seems to be too busy having fun to notice him. Along the way, she makes some friends and enemies, wins a carp costume and tries to hunt down a book she suddenly recalls from her childhood.

In the spirit of the original anime and in spite of its title, “Night Is Short” is oblivious to the flow of time. It seems impossible to have all of these events take place in one night, but our protagonist is so preoccupied with moving on to her next adventure that she never questions how many hours have passed. This works because, well, have you ever looked at your watch in your dreams?

In keeping with dream logic, there’s not much about the Girl with Black Hair’s journey that makes sense. I’m pretty sure you won’t find a two-story boat equipped with a sentō (bath) on the streets of Kyoto (unless it’s part of the tourism push?), or a secret underground school police force that includes a scooter-riding monkey as a recruit. Again, like your dreams, don’t try and make sense of it.

If you’re able to accept the dream aspect of the plot, Yuasa’s style of animation is like the icing on the cake. The vibrancy packed into this film is astounding, most of the characters may be a similar pasty white but the vivid backdrops and patterned kimonos are explosive in their color. More important, though, is the simplicity of the animation combined with complex 3-D filming techniques — a hallmark of all of Yuasa’s work. Just as with “The Tatami Galaxy,” the simplicity creates a sense of nostalgia that even those who aren’t familiar with his work can appreciate. The 3-D work is just impressive, while you may think you are watching “simple” animation the world he creates is still bound to keep you captivated.

However, maybe the best way to think about “Night Is Short” is that, like our dreams, sometimes it’s better not to overthink the meaning. So walk on, girl.