Masaaki Yuasa is a leading figure in the alternative anime scene in Japan: His personal style, which uses both drawn animation and Flash to create brightly colored, often minimal visuals, bears little resemblance to most Japanese — or American — animated films. “The Night Is Short, Walk on Girl,” based on an untranslated novel by best-selling author Tomihiko Morimi, is no exception.
When a group of students set out for a night on the town in Kyoto, the teen heroine, known only as the Girl with Black Hair (Kana Hanazawa), wants to explore the adult world, especially the drinking of alcohol. While downing enough wine, rum and whiskey to fill an Olympic-size swimming pool, she encounters various bizarre characters, including a lecherous collector of pornographic prints, an aged scholar, the tipsy members of a wedding party and Don Underwear (Ryûji Akiyama), a writer who’s vowed not to change his shorts until he finds his lost girlfriend.
The story lurches along, much like the Girl with Black Hair after her umpteenth cocktail: She visits a used book fair hoping to find her favorite children’s book and a school cultural festival, where she participates in a guerrilla musical theater performance. As the night ends, she takes soup to the characters she’s met, who have all caught colds, including Senpai (or, “Upperclassman,” Gen Hoshino). Throughout the film, the smitten, beleaguered Senpai has pursued the Girl with Black Hair. He buys the copy of the book she had as a little girl as a gift — and rescues his boxers from a weirdo who steals boys’ underpants.
Some critics have drawn parallels between Yuasa’s work and the paintings of the “Superflat” artists, but his influences are more eclectic than that. “Night Is Short” includes references to “Yellow Submarine,” “Spirited Away,” “West Side Story,” Tex Avery cartoons and M.C. Escher engravings. The film is alternately intriguing and frustrating. The visuals are often strikingly handsome and oddly funny. But the movements are stiff, the characters chatter endlessly, and the unnecessary songs bring the plot to a grinding halt.
“The Night Is Short, Walk on Girl,” which won the Japanese Film Award for Animation earlier this year, is not a conventional animated feature by any means, but it is a highly original work by an artist who follows his own vision — wherever it leads.
‘The Night Is Short, Walk on Girl’
In Japanese with English subtitles
Running time: 1 hour, 32 minutes
Playing: Aug. 21-22, 7 p.m., selected theaters; starts Aug. 22, Laemmle Royal, West L.A.