Yuasa's latest anime gem is a train of its very own, traveling at full speed. This is the filmmaker's second adaptation of Japanese author Tomihiko Morimi's work; the first was the TV series The Tatami Galaxy. It's clear that Yuasa feels comfortable exploring the material that Morimi writes about, expanding on the aesthetic with which he delivered The Tatami Galaxy nearly a decade ago.
Where his earlier works mixed in heavily filtered live-action content with the 3D and 2D animation — which was both disorienting and stunningly appropriate for his experimental ambitions with Mind Game, among others — Night Is Short, Walk On Girl is as aesthetically polished as his Netflix series Devilman Crybaby. This is an animated film that's bursting with color and movement, with nonsensical imagery and characterization, and with dialogue that oscillates between landing joke after joke and delivering ponderous philosophical musings about the nature of love and time.
It's a film as spontaneous as jazz should be, a perfect encapsulation of what it feels like to have a night of seemingly endless possibilities. But Night Is Short naturally isn't a film without purpose or aim. Split neatly into four episodes (about drinking, used books, guerrilla theater productions, and a rapidly spreading cold), Yuasa makes it all feel like one constantly moving, well-connected narrative. It's not just in the way it all flows naturally and references its other pieces continually, but in the wonderfully charming characters who populate the night.
At its core, Night Is Short, Walk On Girl is about love more than it is about the absurdity of a long night. The Girl With Black Hair is its focal point, and she's one of the liveliest characters to ever grace animated film. But she's contrasted with the unnamed male university student (Gen Hoshino, playing the "Senpai"/"Senior" to the girl's "Kohai"/"Junior") who will do anything to make her believe that fate has brought them together, as he keeps bumping into her "by chance."
Where the Girl With Black Hair is driven by pure enjoyment, much like the train in her favorite children's book, the student is driven by an odd mixture of anxiety, nerve, and determination; his journey climaxes in a surreal fever dream that's somewhere between Inside Out, Lord of the Rings, and M.C. Escher's Relativity. The eccentricities of those around them aren't just decoration being added to a love story, though. Characters float in and out of the screen and one another's thoughts and lives, with each perverse, goofy, and/or sincere individual taking center stage for their own unique arc alongside the central figures.
Night Is Short, Walk On Girl is the only film in which you'll find gods drinking with humans and challenging them to eat spicy foods to win a book; in which drag queens trick ambitious playwrights who don't change their underwear; in which extended musical numbers as self-aware and hilarious as Monty Python's Spamalot happen out of the blue; and in which a young woman with black hair can make it through a natural disaster caused by one man's loneliness, just to make some people with colds feel better.
That unrestrained surrealism and willingness to surprise the audience with something new at every turn is why Masaaki Yuasa is one of the best filmmakers around. And a film as weird and indulgent and magical as Night Is Short, Walk On Girl is too wonderful not to experience.
Night Is Short, Walk On Girl. Starring Gen Hoshino, Kana Hanazawa, and Hiroshi Kamiya. Directed by Masaaki Yuasa. 92 minutes. Rated PG-13. 11:30 p.m. Saturday, September 1, at Coral Gables Art Cinema, 260 Aragon Ave., Coral Gables; 786-472-2249; gablescinema.com. Tickets cost $8.