Saturday, 18 August 2018


Luminous green seas, pink dancing fish legs, preposterous exaggerated expressions and infectiously upbeat music, Lu Over the Wall (Yoake Tsugeru Rū no Uta) is a childlike but bittersweet, simple but rewarding original outing from Masaaki Yuasa. Previously known for the likes of Mind Game and the excellent Devilman Crybaby, Yuasa's Lu is a much more innocent venture, looking at universal themes of growing up and friendship, but with the distinctive mind-bending animation style he has become known for.

In a quiet fishing town which everybody seems to want to escape, morose teen Kai finds small joy in uploading music to the internet, which leads him to kind of (begrudgingly) join his school mates band
SEIRÈN. The town is haunted by stories of the ningyo, a yokai similar to merfolk, and several peoples family members, including Kai's own grandfather, have found their loved ones lost to the ningyo. However, water-haired and pink-tailed ningyo Lu is attracted to the bands music, and soon enough starts dancing and singing. Kai and Lu strike up a friendship, but soon Lu becomes an internet sensation and the town is torn between capitalising on the ningyo or wanting to destroy them.

If you have not seen any of Yuasa's films before, then the deceptively simplistic, even somewhat sloppy design of his animation may seem strange, especially considering the painterly softness of Ghibli and the intense detail of Makoto Shinkai's work. However, it's simplicity allows for a potent array of expressions to be made, allowing for a fluidity that would seem clunky otherwise. Kai's first dive underwater with Lu delivers the kind of mind-bending excitement that Disney achieved with their iconic Pink Elephants, where as flashbacks look more akin to children's picture books, and the ludicrously fun dance scene in the middle of the film looks like something right out of Fleischer Studios. It's dazzling and outrageous, especially with its bold colour palette, but I say lean into it.

The story is also simplistic, and while there is a heavy dose of Miyazaki's Ponyo in this, the plot doesn't go off in any winding narrative roads, sticking pretty solidly to it's optimistic mood. I was however struck by its subtle message on returning to a small town after your big dreams fail, which is sometimes drowned out by the colours and music. It doesn't harangue you with this point, but it gives respect and dignity to these returning-home characters, leaving you with a more sanguine afterthought, especially considering the bittersweet ending for Kai and Lu.

Lu Over the Wall is refreshing in the same way singing badly at the top of your voice is refreshing; the brashness and solemn badness, hurting your chest and clearing your mind, exhaling with defiant foolishness kind of refreshing. Yuasa has not set out to impress your intellect but to excite your senses, and with that he has achieved.



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