Lu Over the Wall

Review by Michael Leader @michaeljleader

Directed by

Masaaki Yuasa

Starring

Kanon Tani Shin’ichi Shinohara Shôta Shimoda

Anticipation.

The second film in a year from this mad scientist of Japanese animation.

Enjoyment.

Too long, but a dazzling attempt to wrangle Ghibli themes into Yuasa’s wacky world.

In Retrospect.

Perhaps not a keeper, but Yuasa is still the most exciting anime director working today.

Masaaki Yuasa’s second film of 2017 proves he’s one to watch in the anime world.

Hot on the heels of his previous feature The Night is Short, Walk on Girl, Masaaki Yuasa returns with a much more mainstream offering, the family animated adventure Lu Over the Wall, which received the top prize at the Annecy International Animated Film Festival, beating Japanese critical hits In This Corner of the World and A Silent Voice. After over a decade of Yuasa pursuing his own unique creative impulses, this film sees the director pulled into the tractor beam that targets most up-and-coming anime directors: Lu Over the Wall is his attempt to ‘do a Ghibli’, and craft an animated fantasy in the much-vaunted tradition of Hayao Miyazaki.

Playing like a fusion of the whimsical adventure of Ponyo and the emotional textures of teen dramas such as Whisper of the Heart, Lu Over the Wall homes in on Kai, a reclusive high schooler trapped in a run-down fishing village by the sea. Something of an aspiring bedroom DJ, Kai dabbles with multitracks and overdubs, and uploads his musical experiments online – causing a stir when one effort, under the alias ‘Merman’, goes (locally) viral. Before long, he’s unmasked and cajoled by school friends into joining a band and venturing out to the abandoned ‘Merfolkland’ amusement park for secret practice sessions. There they rouse a mermaid called Lu who has two overwhelming obsessions: music, and Kai himself.

The character of Lu is a fascinating mash-up of familiar figures from Ghibli and beyond. Her very conception suggests Ponyo, the excitable fish-girl who latches onto a human boy, while her design shifts and morphs under scrutiny: part Ponyo, naturally, but her wide grin and Betty Boop eyes recall the startling gaze of My Neighbour Totoro’s Catbus, and her green-blue hair, not to mention her perky, possessive demeanour is oddly reminiscent of Lum, the magical girlfriend from legendary ’80s manga ‘Urusei Yatsura’.

It’s a barmy concoction of styles, and so is the film as a whole. Yuasa’s off-kilter pacing and charmingly wonky designs give the film an unpredictable energy, and exceedingly odd, surreal visual ideas flow freely from minute to minute. Merfolk, like vampires, transmit their condition through biting, so when Lu scoops up a kennel full of pets and has a nibble she creates a clan of… mer-doggies. Later in the film, a gigantic shark strides into town, wearing a bulging business suit and tiny top hat. This is Lu’s dad, who offers his silent service in revitalising the town’s failing fish processing industry.

Unfortunately, such eccentricity only stretches so far, and at nearly two hours in length, Lu Over the Wall slightly outstays its welcome. An extended disaster-movie sequence, where the town is flooded, leaving humans and merfolk to club together to save their shared home, bloats what could have been a light trifle of a tale. Alongside the twee tones of Kai’s coming-of-age dilemmas – should he stay in the band? Can he sing? What precisely are his feelings for Lu? – it feels parachuted in from another film. Ultimately, though, it’s merely yet another stray idea thrown gleefully at the screen, like so many colours, characters and creative flourishes – all part and parcel of a typical Yuasa joint.

Published 6 Dec 2017

Tags: Masaaki Yuasa

Anticipation.

The second film in a year from this mad scientist of Japanese animation.

Enjoyment.

Too long, but a dazzling attempt to wrangle Ghibli themes into Yuasa’s wacky world.

In Retrospect.

Perhaps not a keeper, but Yuasa is still the most exciting anime director working today.

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