Masaaki Yuasa of TV anime fame is back with his second anime film of 2017 (the first being The Night is short, walk on Girl) with the charming but overly ambitious tale, Lu Over the Wall. A family orientated modern fairytale and re-imagining of the classic The Little Mermaid story with Yuasa’s trademark animation style.
Kai, a brooding teenage boy who lives in a small fishing town with his father and grandfather, has a hidden passion and talent for musical rhythm. There are many historic tales linked to this town that Merfolk live in the surrounding area and it’s not until Kai meets the cute and endearing mermaid Lu (voiced by Your Name’s Kanon Tani), who becomes more human-like when she listens to music, that he realises that the Merfolk are not as they have been made out to be. Lu just wants to be everyone’s friend.
What instantly stands out about this tale is the distinctively unique visual art style which is a trademark of Yuasa. Produced with flash animation, using simplistic and minimalist techniques to allow the characters to move freely in the foreground (especially when water is involved) is somewhat of a masterstroke. On the one hand, it’s unconventional and on the other, it allows the background cast to move in a cartoony fashion which, in other anime films such as those of Studio Ghibli, would be unsuitable for the tone or style. One scene that stands out in particular involves the townsfolk engaging in a large scale dance number with limbs being thrust around in jelly like form harking back to the Disney musicals of old, but with a noticeable Japanese twist.
However, a unique visual style and spectacular soundtrack cannot save the film of its biggest downfall. Making a transition from a TV based narrative to limited film runtime can be damning and unfortunately that is the case with Lu Over The Wall. Many characters are introduced over the course of the film, some with the potential to really delve deep into their backstory, but with a 112 minute runtime too many storylines are left constant without closure or any evolution. For example, Kai’s grandfather has a briefly touched up tragic past involving his mother (the flashback scenes are presented like a beautiful moving watercolour painting) but in the final act of the film, his backstory is given little attention and quick absolution regrettably resulting in lost impact.
Whereas Lu Over The Wall never reaches the dizzy heights of Your Name or Ponyo, there is plenty for a wide audience to enjoy from dazzlingly original visuals and a musical score that will have you grinning from ear to ear and wanting to bust out your best dance moves.
Lu Over The Wall is released in select UK cinemas for one night only on December 6th 2017.