I watched Masaaki Yuasa’s 2017 feature-length anime, Night Is Short, Walk on Girl, just a couple hours after a virtual screening of Lee Isaac Chung’s 2020 Minari. The latter was exalted in reviews scattered with words like ‘gentle,’ ‘lovely,’ and ‘tender’; it is these very qualities that are Minari’s greatest strength. As a daughter of an immigrant, I felt a certain emotional proximity to Minari’s characters, and left the screening still enveloped in this warmth. Plunging into Yuasa’s film an hour later was like a sudden temperature change––the slow, meditative images of Minari were displaced by an intense flurry of color, shape, and sound. Yuasa’s animation is psychedelic, playing with style and movement without attention to either’s boundaries; the animated world he creates is “exaggerated, distorted and impossible,” and all the more entrancing for it (Robinson). Night Is Short, Walk on Girl packs in a dizzying amount of plot––in its ninety minute runtime it manages to include a pub crawl, a quest to find a treasured book, a guerilla theater production, a flu epidemic, and a love story. But all this diegesis never feels excessive. The dynamism of the film’s animation keeps pace with the frenetic plot, making for a uniquely imaginative and unforgettable fun.
For all its quirks, Night Is Short, Walk On Girl still has its fair share of the familiar anime tropes. There is Todo (Kazuhiro Yamaji), an old pervert, who gropes the film’s protagonist, Girl With Black Hair (Kana Hanazawa), only to be met with a punch in the face. Said “Girl With Black Hair” drinks continually––a ‘power,’ if you will, reminiscent of the magical girl trope. And well, the film follows the parameters of a love story. Senpai (Gen Hoshiro) has been stalking Girl With Black Hair in hopes that she falls in love with him––which she does. However its use of clichés feels more referential in the sea of other happenings and visual excitements.
From the very beginning, the film establishes its deviation from typical anime style. The Girl With Black Hair chugs a flute of champagne, a wine glass in the foreground reflecting and distorting the bodies of those sitting at her table. As she gulps down the alcohol, her neck expands in an entirely unnatural way; her contours balloon momentarily and then rapidly return to her natural presence. Cutting to the others at her table, a server offers wine to a man and woman, their faces a bright salmon pink. Their flushing, a symptom of alcohol, is exaggerated to contrast the whiteness of the non-drunk characters.
The girl is then served six escargot in a round baking dish, of which the two-dimensional outline fades, transforming into a flatly-drawn wheel. Extradiegetic noise cues the entrance of wisps of smoke, and a train’s lurching chug enters the soundscape. The wheel, slightly asymmetrical, begins to spin as if bearing the weight of a train car departing from a station. The motion is then replicated, leaving behind the girl and advancing into the rest of the room; Yuasa introduces us to the space, which is populated by nearly-identical dinner tables, the figures of those sitting rendered into increasing visual flatness. The frames chug forward, reeling into the gaze of Senpai, the movement emphasizing his uncomfortably bulging eyes. Senpai’s friend asks him: “Don’t you get tired of gazing only at her?” After a brief angry rebuttal, the screen erupts in an array of hot pinks, cherry reds, lime greens and grape purples as Senpai’s “Operation AHO” is explained in an entirely new pop-art style.
As testament to the film’s wild energy, all this visual experimentation occurs within the first two-minutes. The stream-of-consciousness that unfolds in the following hour never ceases to excite. And even with all that goes on in Yuasa’s anime, it delivers with it an emotional warmth. Not the same warmth of Minari, but a warmth nonetheless, acid-induced though it may be.
*Night Is Short, Walk On Girl (dir. Masaaki Yuasa, 2017) is available to stream on HBO Max.
Mizuki Samuelson grew up in Providence, RI, where she spent her childhood and teenage years dancing ballet and studying French. She is now a rising junior at Macalester College in Saint Paul, MN. She studies Media and Cultural Studies and Japanese, with specific interests in video production and representations of race and gender in media.