After a moderately normal opening scene featuring three guys in a bar, mulling over the best way for one of them (Sempai) to tell a girl he likes her, Masaaki Yuasa’s animated debut feature swiftly twists into the half-mad hybrid of Dali, Disney and Monty Python. The script by Makoto Ueda (based on a novel by Tomohiko Morimi) swirls through dazzlingly disorientating sequences and a cosmic cluster of characters like: a child vampire god of the Ponto used book market, an enigmatic villain called “the obstinate king”, Director Sleaze, the juvenile Don Underwater (part of the Bedroom Investigation Committee) who refuses to change his underwear and Todo-san; a character dealing antique erotic art/woodblock prints to black market operatives.
Following a riveting set-up, the plot swaps protagonists from Sempai (Gen Hoshino) to Otome (Kana Hanazawa); a robust yet complex reveller (and the woman of Sempai’s dreams) who could drink Marion Ravenwood under the table. But despite cockily standing her own with the ability to down a pub while battling debauched carousers, Otome (like the story) is astonishingly scattershot. The second act charts her search for a rare book via a dreamy montage, linking famous authors to their greatest works. This runs parallel to a sub-plot chronicling Sempai’s quest to find Otome and win her heart. Yet Sempai is crippled by a juvenile sex panic; similar to that of Ryunosuke Kamiki: the main character in Makoto Shinkai’s Your Name, which prevents him from confessing his love.
Sempai franticly gasps and fumbles with widening Manga eyes while wheezing accompanied by cartoon sweat beads and is completely unable to govern his emotions. This hyperbolic anxiety also recalls the “saucy” postcard humour that both blemished and bejewelled some of the characters in Carry On films: jaded sex pests who react to anything suggestive with the type of coooarrr, phwooooar or oooooooh noises that, coupled with the groping, should have got them arrested.
Yuasa’s debut feature starts with an opening credit sequence recalling Blake Edwards’ Pink Panther films’ while evoking another classic Brit comedy troupe: Monty Python. Not just by way of the delirious visuals; arousing Terry Gilliam’s anarchic art, but also through some of its supporting characters. This is evident during an impromptu musical number in which costumed performers sing about smearing women in stew for stray dogs and “breast climbing”, before it suddenly starts raining apples and everything’s okay. Alongside a food gorging sequence in which people’s lips inflate, this makes for one of The Night is Short’s many mad but wonderful set-pieces.
Yuasa’s film frequently feels like being trapped in the spin cycle of a malfunctioning washing machine during a colour wash, encased on drugs in a colossal blancmange or floating through the dreams of an inebriated Walt Disney. It’s cosmic pandemonium is delirious and fascinating but for the most part, pot-wise, completely unfathomable. Supporting characters embark on irreverent flights of fancy while Otome’s goal evolves and the lack of any cohesive character arc or continuity makes the story all the more discombobulating. The Night is Short is raw, anarchic cartoon bedlam and remarkably inventive (even by East Asian anime standards) but you might burst a brain bubble by trying to decipher it.
The Night is Short, Walk on Girl is released on October 4th.