Lu Over The Wall review: A fishy tale from Japan that’s hard to catch

Japanese director Masaaki Yuasa is on a roll in 2017

Wild at heart: Lu Over the Wall

Film Title: Lu Over the Wall

Director: Masaaki Yuasa

Starring: Kanon Tani, Shōta Shimoda, Akira Emoto, Minako Kotobuki, Shinichi Shinohara, Sōma Saitō

Genre: Animation

Running Time: 112 min

Tue, Dec 5, 2017, 14:26

   

It’s been quite a year for director Masaaki Yuasa who’s wild, busy debut feature Night is Short, Walk on Girl premiered just months ago.

Last summer, his sophomore theatrical bow, Lu Over the Wall, beat Loving Vincent and In This Corner of the World to take home the main Cristal prize from Annecy International Animated Film Festival. The last time a Japanese project was named best film at the premiere animation festival was 22 years ago, when Studio Ghibli and Isao Takahata’s Pom Poko took home the gong in 1995. One can’t help but feel this is one of those occasions when a statuette has been presented to the right filmmaker for the wrong film.

In common with much contemporary anime, Lu Over the Wall pivots around a sad teenager displaced by divorce. Sullen 14-year-old Kai (Shôta Shimoda), is sent to the isolated fishing port of Hinashi to live with his grandfather, a parasol-maker. A lonely, gloomy city kid, his uploaded musical compositions soon attract the attention of classmates Kunio and Yuuho, who invite him to join their band, Seirèn.

Reluctantly, he accompanies them to Merfolk Island, their practice spot, where they meet Lu, an insanely enthusiastic mermaid girl. Or possibly were-mermaid girl: we soon learn that her bite can transform mammals into more seafaring forms. Lu’s bounciness draws Kai out of his shell and wows locals. Entrepreneurs see her as a possible money-spinning tourist attraction. But since ancient times, the people of Hinashi have regarded mermaids as bad omens and trouble is brewing.

At its best, Lu resembles a freestyle, teeny-bopper reworking of Hayao Miyazaki’s similarly themed Ponyo. But the commendably imaginative, anarchic visuals – which served the philosophical, Proustian leanings of Night is Short, Walk on Girl so well – feel a little too ill-disciplined here. A shark-god walks around in an ill-fitting suit. Sushi-victim fish carcasses fly around. The erratically gifted Lu’s exuberance is a bit like being trapped in a demented, maritime game-show loop. Will she ever go back over the wall?