The Night Is Short, Walk On Girl and Script-Spectacle Balance

The Night is Short, Walk On Girl is not yet available for streaming.

From a strictly presentation-focused standpoint, The Night is Short, Walk On Girl every bit as impressive of a film as its name is long.

Speaking of which, let’s establish a shorthand for that title right out of the gate, because that’s more than a bit unwieldy: NiSWOG, spelled with a cute lil’ lowercase ‘i’and pronounced in my head as “niss-wogg”, like some kinda Star Wars critter. Much better.

Anyway.

NiSWOG is a delight to watch – I’m positively ecstatic that this accompanied the deluge of high-quality anime films that secured a limited U.S. release this summer alongside the charming Fireworks and personal favorite Maquia. I’m not just saying so because that provides a reasonable way of seeing it outside the international Blu-Rays, but also because the spectacle in NiSWOG is among its strongest qualities. Moreso than any of its contemporaries, it leans heavily into bold imagery and strong fundamentals like those outlined in The Twelve Basic Principles of Animation to provide some truly captivating showmanship in every single scene, even and especially for segments that by all rights ought to be mundane.

niswogsmoke
Eating a hot pot, smoking cigarettes… nothing is done halfway.

And this is hardly a surprise coming from director Masaaki Yuasa – the man is darn near infamous for directing some of the most striking anime (and animation in general) put to screen in the last decade or two, from the rough love-it-or-hate-it look of Ping Pong the Animation to last year’s eye-catching and gleefully grotesque Devilman Crybaby. The man has a way of serving audiences a level of bizarre and fantastic imagery that you don’t often see anywhere else.

But the thing is, as much as NiSWOG blew me away with its animation, I’m still not quite sure how much I like it as a film on the whole.

It’s really apparent that the story is adapted from a series of four short novels; every twenty minutes or so, there’s a substantial shift in the plot, with minimal connection from one to the next until a point quite near to the ending. These very noticeable changes in direction keep the movie from just feeling like it follows a four-act structure. The script feels formatted much more like a multiple-episode OVA than the film it’s been edited as, and knowing what Yuasa has accomplished on TV-level budgets, it seems odd to me that a distinctly four-part story was made into a single movie – unless Yuasa has the name recognition these to generate solid box-office returns? I honestly don’t know enough to even speculate properly on that one.

Granted, possibly the most widely-recognized anime film in the world also mostly disregards the usual cadence of a movie’s plot, so maybe that’s not all there is to it.

niswogtotoro
I defy you to outline My Neighbor Totoro using a typical act-based structure.

There’s also a weird mix of themes and stances that take a sharp turn about the fourth section in particular. In the first three story segments, it follows a central, unnamed heroine on mini-adventures that, for all of Yuuasa’s stylistic flair, are generally on the more grounded side and show her having a strong streak of independence, while the secondary and equally-anonymous protagonist spends his time in ludicrous scenarios trying to catch the attention of the aforementioned heroine (who mentions him in passing if at all for at least the first two-thirds of the film). The fourth segment suddenly sees the male protagonist as the focus of the heroine’s plot as she treks through a spectacularly-realized blizzard to suddenly realize how important he is to her and reframe the entire film as a romantic comedy rather than the straight-comedy that the heroine had been experiencing up until that point.

It feels a bit off the mark to have such a strong-willed female lead with her own volition fall into a romantic subplot in the last half-hour of a ninety-minute film, especially since the male lead has been pretty open since the very first scene about how he deliberately sets up “coincidence” encounters with the heroine and makes a point of actively looking for ways to make himself part of her story. Even writing that out makes it feel a bit uncomfortable how the story permits and ultimately rewards his behavior – which ranges from good-natured-but-misguided to stalker-like, depending on how charitably you want to interpret his character.

Then again, maybe having the heroine stumble through different scenarios while remaining totally oblivious to the boy is some sort of visual language for “she couldn’t see what was in front of her all along”. I certainly wouldn’t put it past Yuuasa as a director to leave a major motif of the film entirely up to implication and visual language rather than explicitly explain it through the dialogue as is a frustratingly-common trapping in anime. Still, that interpretation comes weighed down with its own unfortunate implications, considering how much she seems to enjoy her outings as-is and never seems to be particularly wanting for companions.

But ultimately none of these hangups felt especially bothersome when I was actually watching NiSWOG, because I had such a blast watching what felt like a blissful fever dream straight from the minds of studio Science SARU‘s animation team.

The male protagonist’s subplot and motivation could get away with their more troublesome slant because of how over-the-top and fun his scenes were (yeah, remember that ol’ buzzword, “fun”?).

There’s a short moment in the third section that leans into what can be seen as an antiquated view on cross-dressing, but the cross-dressing character in focus seems to be leaning into the act with a knowing tongue-in-cheek attitude, and the scene itself had gotten clearly and delightfully out of hand several animation cuts ago, anyway.

Even the heroine’s turning point in the fourth section is accompanied by a run of brightly-colored visions that keep the audience engaged in the moment irrespective of the trajectory of her character.

So in the end, the question of “Is NiSWOG an effective film?” boils down to what you want out of a film, or what you believe that a film should aspire to, and therefore what it needs to accomplish in order to to be effective.

Should a film entertain? Its hyper-expressive animation means NiSWOG has this angle covered in spades, providing that you like animation to some degree (and if you don’t, what are you even doing reading an internet essay about anime?).

Should a film act as an art piece? NiSWOG is certainly an outstanding example of this; regardless of the actual subject matter, there’s more than a shade of impressionism to Yuasa’s surreal direction, and that makes it an exemplary reminder of exactly why traditional animation is so well-beloved.

Should a film be a medium for telling a story? There’s a strong argument that stitching together four novels is an especially a poor fit for a movie script, especially considering the aforementioned acute shift in its fourth act that won’t work for certain viewers.

It’s a film that moves to the beat of its own drum, to be sure, which in turn means there’s likely as many takes on NiSWOG as there are viewers of it. But it’s also the kind of film that has the potential to push your viewpoint on the medium in one way or the other – to consider whether a film (or any piece of media, really), can still thrive while falling short on the quality of certain elements so long as the others remain outstanding.

And for all its troubles, I’d still wholeheartedly recommend The Night is Short, Walk On Girl, which I suppose shouldn’t be at all surprising given my stance on fluff shows. But despite that connection, the film has a whole lot to dig into for lovers of a vivid spectacle, and still plenty to chew on for those who posit that animation can’t survive on that grace alone.

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