Overseen by visionary director Masaaki Yuasa, already known for “Kaiba” (2008) and “The Tatami Galaxy” (2010), “The Night is Short, Walk on Girl” (2017) is an adventure in absurdity, held together with unique hilarity and masterful animation. Based on Tomihiko Morimi’s novel of the same name, the film follows a Kyoto University student through the adventures of one impossibly long night and the colorful smattering of humanity she meets along the way. Released in Japan in 2017, it only recently came to the United States in limited release.
The plot is hard to pinpoint and somewhat takes a backseat. In short, a student known as “The Girl with Black Hair” decides to go out drinking in the adult world of Ponto Town and encounters a crazy cast of characters throughout the course of a night that seems to last a year. Unbeknownst to her, her secret lover (an upperclassman known only as “Senpai”) has been obsessively following and approaching her in ‘random’ places under the pretense of coincidence. To Senpai’s despair, she never seems to notice him for long, and the wild goose chase continues — at least until he can learn how to be brave and fully embrace life and opportunity.
You might have already guessed how the plot ends, but you definitely will not predict the journey. On her way, the Girl meets an ancient drinking master who lives on a train, an alcoholic carp/erotic prints salesman and Don Underwear, a student actor who has pledged not to change his underwear until he finds the strange woman he loves. She also runs into fantastical groups and school clubs, providing social commentary teeming with hilarity along the way. A university library committee created to seize books never returned by students has turned into a Big Brother-esque surveillance operation across all of Kyoto. A party of sophists devolves into the most absurd and hilarious takedown of intellectualism since Aristophanes’ “The Clouds.” Although many jokes are biting, they are never cheap. “The Night is Short, Walk on Girl” is not a takedown of society; it’s a journey through life wherein characters are blissfully redeemed and lessons are learned.
Aside from its romantic subplot, the story is not intended to make sense or unfold naturally. The Girl’s first distinguishable trait is her ability to drink unbelievable amounts of alcohol without ever feeling its effects, which leads her to an epic drinking contest with the old man on the train. She then wanders to an outdoor used bookstore and is struck with a desire to find her favorite childhood book. She becomes involved with a guerrilla musical theater troupe and its feud with the library surveillance club. Then, a terrible cold spreads throughout Kyoto, and the Girl — the only one who does not get sick — decides to go door to door with a homeopathic remedy and cure the city. Sequences range from improvised musicals to a stylized internal dialogue that looks like the most heated United Nations council in history.
The film’s animation consistently shines. There may be a great skill in making animation look realistic (Pixar has garnered attention for this, particularly surrounding the production of “Incredibles 2”), but equally impressive is the ability to heighten reality through exaggeration. When characters eat spicy food, they spit flames and their lips become swollen and red. When they take shots or great gulps of beer, we can see it slug along down their throats. When a man sees the woman he loves, the other people in the room literally become faceless.
On paper, the film’s structure seems like a drawn-out, disjointed mess. But the animation is consistently stunning and surprising, and the humor stays strong throughout. It is a crazy journey, but you will be happy and eager to ride along with it. The success of the movie lies in its acceptance of the Girl’s philosophy: everything is connected, everything happens for a reason and everything holds beauty. And for such an abstract, absurd storyline, there are also moments that feel almost too real. Characters blackmail each other to be drinking buddies and accompany them in their despair while wondering where their ambition and talent have gone. But here, the meaning of life in youth lies in connections and company, not in the events themselves. “The Night is Short, Walk on Girl” is funny, fantastical and real, but best of all, it is joyous.