On a night out a nameless college girl (voiced by Kana Hanazawa]) tests her fortitude by embarking upon a boozy odyssey from bar to bar, consuming epic amounts of alcohol. Unaware she is being followed by a senior classmate (Gen Hoshino) continually thwarted in his efforts to profess his love. Exhibiting super-strength the Girl punches out Todo (Kazuhiro Yamaji), a tragically lewd old man who fondles her boobs, which impresses Hanuki (Yuko Kaida) and rakish scholar Higuchi (Kazuya Nakai). Accompanied by newfound friends the Girl soldiers onward. As the night wears on and the booze flows freely, events take a turn for the surreal. The Girl visits a bar where drunken salarymen argue for the sake of arguing while imitating crabs, challenges a supernatural being named Rihaku (Mugihito) to a drinking contest, meets the impish God of the Old Book Market (Hiroyuki Yoshino) and joins a student led guerrilla theater terrorist group. Meanwhile, dying to win the Girl's heart, the Boy goes to desperate lengths to obtain a rare copy of her most cherished children's book, only to stumble into one strange mess after another.
Ever since Mind Game (2004) made him a talent to watch Masaaki Yuasa has been quietly cranking out ingenious, hallucinatory anime movies that are gradually redefining the medium. Yet, unlike his contemporaries Makoto Shinkai and Mamoru Hosoda, Yuasa has yet to have the blockbuster hit that breaks him into the international mainstream. Yuasa's trippy, free-form, whimsical style remains an acquired taste, but Night Is Short, Walk On Girl perfectly showcases not just his visual ingenuity but skill with nuanced characterization and great big heart. Based on a novel by Tomihiko Morimi, the acclaimed author of The Tatami Galaxy (2010) (that Yuasa previously adapted as an eleven episode mini-series sharing themes and characters in common with this film) and Penguin Highway (2018), Night Is Short, Walk On Girl grabs your attention from the get go. Not just with its arresting, ever-morphing visual style but instantly ingratiating, relatable characters. It is a tipsy coming of age fantasy in which our heroine's booze-addled journey becomes a mind-bending rite of passage.
Near-impossible to summarize, the stream-of-consciousness narrative veers off on wild tangents, mimicking the protagonist's rambling state of mind. Moving from slice-of-life to sci-fi, musical satire to rom-com with flights of fancy going beyond what surrealist maestros Federico Fellini and Luis Buñuel achieved in their dream odysseys, the visuals evoke supernatural folk tales, legendary artist Hokusai, children's books, vintage manga, Ralph Bakshi, UPA, Osamu Tezuka and more, anchored by a super-literate literate script with a consistent character arc. So Yuasa's non-stop visual trickery never feels self-indulgent. It is also frequently laugh-out-loud funny and intertwines multiple love stories, including one with a very amusing twist, that are genuinely sweet. Morimi's story forgoes dwelling on the negative aspects of excessive drinking and instead embraces the warm, sociable aspects of bar culture. A rare female protagonist happily unapologetic about loving to party, Morimi's heroine embraces life, driven by a youthful vigour and optimism the film argues are essential ingredients in the evolution of Japan and cyclical nature of existence. Having devoted herself to forging onward she grows to learn the importance of valuing the people she passes along the way and eventually discovers the secret to true maturity is compassion. Yuasa fashions the film into a heartening fable about how people are fundamentally interconnected and therefore never alone. As such Night Is Short, Walk On Girl may well be his masterpiece.