Masaaki Yuasa isn't the most prolific of directors, so 2017 was a great year for fans of the maverick anime legend. Besides releasing The Night Is Short, Walk on Girl, he also directed Lu over the Wall [Yoake Tsugeru Ru no Uta]. I'm not the biggest Yuasa fan in the world, but his style is quickly growing on me and Lu over the Wall is yet another film that adds to Yuasa's genius. It's not a film for everyone, but if you like your animation a little different than you simply can't let this one pass by.
Yuasa's style isn't easily coined, but there's always something absurd, experimental and psychedelic to his films. Whatever happens beyond that can differ quite a bit, but that weirdness is somewhat of a constant. Lu over the Wall fits that description rather well, though the film still managed to surprise me. Yuasa made what looks like an ode to Miyazaki, a film that is reminiscent of Ponyo and Totoro while still being instantly recognizable as a Yuasa film. Even writing it down now it hardly makes any sense, but somehow it felt natural enough while watching.
The fact that Lu over the Wall features a main character that looks an awful lot like Ponyo helps to establish the connection, but there's also something to the whole vibe of the film that screams Miyazaki. The breeziness of the setting, the darker moments that feel a little out of character but give the film a backbone, the epic finale and the environmental undertones are all bits and pieces that could've come from a Miyazaki film. The fantasy elements, the music and the human characters are more in line with Yuasa's work, the strength of this film is that both worlds come together beautifully.
Lu over the Wall follows Kai, a teenage boy who moves away from Tokyo to a small coastal town in order to live with his dad and grandfather. When Kai reluctantly joins a school band he runs into a mermaid (Lu) during one of their practicing sessions. Lu and Kai quickly become friends, but the villagers fear mermaids and Lu has to be kept under wraps. Kai isn't happy with the situation though and comes up a plan to introduce Lu to the villagers, sadly things do not go as planned.
Yuasa has a unique and definitive visual style. His films are instantly recognizable, mostly because he isn't too strict with form. He loves to do wobbly and wonky art styles and adjusts his animation accordingly. It allows him to have more complex (virtual) camera work and it gives his films a somewhat otherworldly and psychedelic feel. That said, there's still a lot of detail in the backgrounds and the film doesn't look like some 8-year old went crazy with crayons. It's a well-balanced exercise in style that tones down the experimental tendencies of Yuasa in order to create a more likeable and mainstream film. Just don't expect a regular, anime-friendly art style, in that case you better stick with regular Ghibli.
The soundtrack is on the poppy side, but it does fit the story. Kai is part of a school band and comes from a musical family, so it's only natural that a boy his age is into the more poppy sounds. It's not my favorite type of music, but it isn't the cheapest J-Pop either and there's at least some level of quality to the songs. On top of that, the music does add to the light-hearted and positive atmosphere of the film, which is also important. The original dub definitely offers some added value here, this film is so thoroughly Japanese that it's hard to imagine a different dub. I did sit through the English-language trailer to sample what it would sound like and that was a complete abomination, so do yourself a favor and just stick with the Japanese version.
While most of the film is pretty child-proof, there are some darker scenes, especially near the end of the film. It's clear that Yuasa had a younger audience in mind for Lu over the Wall, but I'm not quite sure how they'll react to the visual style and the somewhat crazier ending. Adults on the other hand might find the story a little too childish and the characters too zany and weird. Animation die-hards on the other hand will find plenty to love here, but that's a rather small niche still.
Lu over the Wall is the perfect blend of Yuasa and Miyazaki. A film that feels creative and original, but is also sweet, warm and comfortable at the same time. Lu is an amazing character, the art style and animation are stunning and the dub is extremely well done. If you love Yuasa's work this is an easy recommend, if you're hoping for a Ghibli replacement though I'd tread with caution. While there are a lot of parallels, this film would never fit into the Ghibli catalogue. It's an amazing trip though, if you don't mind a bit of adventure.