Yes, I am calling this movie a masterpiece, which is a shame because it had such a short and limited release in U.S. theaters. Fortunately, I had the pleasure of viewing Night is Short, Walk on Girl on a whim at my local community movie theater, which only had three showings left. This film was directed by Masaaki Yuasa in 2017, but released in American theaters in August 2018. As the director of one of my favorite Japanese animated television shows, Devilman Crybaby, I already knew beforehand that I was walking into the theater for a visual spectacle. Yuasa is known for his signature style of simplistic art style combined with fluid, visceral animation and uniquely surreal storytelling. As you can surmise, I was filled with high expectations and thankfully this movie delivered.
If this were a movie review, I'd give it a solid score of: A.
But this is not going to be a review. Today I'll just be expressing my thoughts on this film, which hopefully will be good cause for discussion. Let's begin!
First off, the basic premise follows the love story of two college students, Otome and Senpai. Otome, is a heavy drinking girl with a positively charming attitude that commits to one epic night of partying which seemingly lasts forever, while Senpai is the shy bespectacled boy who resolves to take this particularly long night to finally win Otome's heart. Along the way they meet several quirky characters with very questionable names at times (Don Underwear, anybody?) and their night quickly falls into dream-like state, filled with kooky antics and adventure.
To watch this film is to understand that it throws the traditional narrative structure out the window. At least that’s how it begins. The plot cannot be properly explained as the visuals and the eccentric characters perform outrageously ludicrous actions, and at some points even break into random song and dance. Like a visual metaphor for every crazy college night, everything becomes a blur of events that are strung together.
The idea of fate is thrown around often in this film, which is intended to illustrate both their belief systems. In one corner you have Otome's desire to live life in a laissez faire fashion, or her ability to go with the metaphorical flow of life itself. She's happy-go-lucky, fun, and generally says yes to adventure. Fate appears to be on her side for every situation and she takes herself on a journey through this night that seems to last years.
On the other hand, Senpai is shown to have self-doubt, anger, frustration and has terrible luck. In fact, there are several scenes where he loses his pants and winds up with an ice cream cone attached to his crotch, much for comedic effect. He is passive and manipulative, trying his best to earn Otome's affections through a series of forced "chance" encounters. Senpai believes that by doing so, she'll eventually associate these coincidences into a message that they're fated to be together. Kind creepy, kind sweet?
The futurist in me also noticed some similarities between the School Festival Executive Head's secret library fortress and the political climate of today. In a nod to communism or Big Brother, there's a scene where Senpai finds out that the School Festival Executive Head has spy camera network set all over the place that gathers tons of intel on everyone, including to Otome. Immediately Senpai is angered and disgusted by this, but when it benefits him (they discover her favorite childhood book) in his quest to impress Otome, he eagerly takes the information. He fantasizes that by bringing her a beloved childhood book called Ra Ta Ta Tam, she would fall straight into his arms.
It's strange that an average, albeit attractive college student and head of a committee has access to his own armed milita and jail cell. However, due to the general hijinks and randomness of the movie itself, I suppose that can be forgiven.
Despite most of the movie playing itself out as a disjointed fantasy, this love story remains a romantic comedy at its core. However, the journey to get there is anything but normal, it still keeps the beats of what you’d expect. The acid trip that was the long night melts away as the sun rises and dawns a new day, or symbolically the burgeoning romance between the two leads. Perhaps, as a deeper look into the meaning of life that tells us maybe we don't have to have all the answers because things will find a way to work themselves out. Everything that happens isn’t by chance or coincidence after all. It is fate. Much like the film 500 Days of Summer, we the audience are taught the lesson that everything that happened through this night that seemed to have lasted years is genuinely fate. These two characters came into these crazy situations by seemingly arbitrary choices and actions, but it all brought them full circle to where they should be at exactly the right time and place. Isn’t that love in a nutshell?