Late summer nights. Bachelor parties. Drinking competitions. Young love. The lonely-hearted waxing poetic above hazy streetlights while a parade of strangers fall in line like autumn leaves, their paths guided only by the gentle wind behind them.
And that’s the first 10 minutes.
I have been watching Japanese anime lovingly for just over two decades, so believe me when I say Night is Short, Walk on Girl is a lovely and weird – but densely Japanese – film. Before watching this film, it would help to know what a daruma is, the basics of Shinto, and the culture around school festivals.
Animation director Masaaki Yuasa’s works have a stilted, almost graphic design 101 distinction. His personification of emotional shifts and exaggerated character expression is both comical and elegant. His bright, neon colors are flat, absent of any shading. His characters go from rigid to loose and liquid within heartbeats, and his camera’s eye moves as fluidly as a flock of birds. As the film progresses, however, the colors become muted as more people are debilitated by a spreading viral cold in parallel to a powerful hurricane sweeping the city.
The tragedy of Night is Short is its limited theatrical release.
This may be the year’s most important film about self-care and self-love since Bo Burnham’s EighthGrade, not because this is a film about someone’s love life, but the choice to love Life.
Night is Short follows a college student as she surrenders her evening to the whims of fate, all the while being stalked awkwardly by a lovesick upper classmate determined to confess his feelings to her. She stands out from the rest of the philosophy-shouting, inebriated cast by never getting drunk and having no distinct goal or argument to settle. She will crash parties, reteach an aging men’s club their own “sophist dance,” drink a legendary curmudgeon under the table, and step into the lead role of an illegal, guerilla-style musical romance.
Each of the four acts of this film can stand on their own as shorts (the drinking contest, the book fair, the school festival, and the Florence Nightingale story), though the acts flow beautifully into each other by rotating and reintroducing characters. Each sub-story gives our upper classmate another chance to step closer to our Girl, but embarrassing shenanigans stand in his way.
In the final act, our Girl is delivering soup to ensemble cast, ultimately ending at her upperclassman’s apartment. This throws our Upper Classmate into the throes of internal conflict, and suddenly a sophist script becomes bare, raw and very relatable. Any young artist experiencing unrequited love is required to watch this scene at least half a dozen times. Hormones battle against stock brokers, courage bends wrongly to logic, and wooden cowboys beat up their own shadows. His internal conflict is manifest as a surreal dungeon-crawl for our Girl, one that would make the creators of Legend of Zelda jealous. I haven’t been this excited during an animation sequence since Satoshi Kon’s Paprika.
The small moments of life and young love, the moments with friends you’ll wish you remembered more clearly as you age…these are the morsels celebrated in Night is Short, Walk on Girl.