LU OVER THE WALL: Sugary Sweet, A Little Messy & Oh So Strange
Lu Over the Wall combines a basic coming-of-age story with folkloric legend to concoct a tale of self-discovery that is incredibly messy, but also very beautiful.
Masaaki Yuasa is an animator and director unlike any other. His work stands out from the pack not because it has a singular, distinguishable style, but for the exact opposite reason. Rather than stick to an easily identifiable visual style across his various films and television shows, Yuasa enjoys experimenting and even combining different styles of animation within the same narrative. As our own Benjamin Wang says in his Beginner’s Guide to Yuasa’s work, “He believes audiences are more open to stylistic diversity than some people expect, and wants his artistic collaborators to feel satisfied. It’s only natural, then, that you’d be hard-pressed to come across work that resembles his.”
Yuasa’s latest feature film, Lu Over the Wall, fits right into his oeuvre for that very reason — it resembles no other style of animated movie I have ever seen. It combines a basic coming-of-age story with folkloric legend to concoct a tale of self-discovery that is incredibly messy, but also very beautiful. While the film is not without flaws, it’s easy for viewers to gloss over them thanks to Yuasa’s incredibly creative and always fascinating mode of visual storytelling.
The Song of the Siren
Kai is an introverted middle-school boy who moved from Tokyo to the small seaside town of Hinashi with his father after his parents split up. Kai’s father is a native of Hinashi, a town that has a troubled history with the legendary merfolk said to populate the waters around it. The only viable industries seem to be fishing and umbrella-making; Kai’s father has a job doing the former, while Kai’s grandfather is a master of the latter.
Young people like Kai are encouraged to continue their educations with a focus on staying in Hinashi and doing one of these things; everyone who has left the town with big dreams ends up returning in the end, anyway.
As he stumbles through this somewhat bleak small-town existence, the only time Kai truly expresses himself is through recording songs that he posts anonymously online. However, when his classmates Yuho and Kunio discover his identity, they immediately try to recruit him for their band, Siren. Kai reluctantly agrees, and the trio heads out to a remote island to rehearse. However, their music summons an enthusiastic young siren named Lu, who adores Kai and his songs.
Kai quickly forms a friendship with Lu, but when the rest of the town finds out, controversy follows. The other residents of Hinashi believe that the merfolk bring disaster in their wake, and when one incident is accidentally pegged on Lu, Kai must come out of his shell and convince the rest of the town to open their minds in the hope of better understanding the true nature of their watery neighbors.
Eye Candy and Mer-puppies
It’s hard to stick with the story of Lu Over the Wall; plot threads are picked up and lost again with wild abandon, and very few are followed through to a logical conclusion. The ending itself feels awkward and almost abrupt, as though you were just yanked out of a particularly surreal dreamscape by the harsh buzzing of your alarm clock. But one doesn’t need to follow the plot too closely to get swept away by the siren’s song, thanks to the unique blend of animation styles used to bring the story to life. Even if you’ve lost track of what is going on, Yuasa feeds you enough eye candy to ensure you will remain satisfied.
The majority of Lu Over the Wall is done in a straightforward, relatively lo-fi style that bears more of a resemblance to mid-century Disney animated classics than its modern anime contemporaries, while the psychedelic fantasy sequences inspired by the siren’s song are reminiscent of The Beatles’s famously trippy journey into the animated world, Yellow Submarine. The entire film is essentially a tribute to the hand-drawn animation of one’s childhood — or one’s parents’ childhoods — and this form of visually inspired nostalgia is a perfect match for this story of youthful self-discovery.
The three teenagers at the center of Lu Over the Wall are often quite annoying in the way that most teenagers are; the film shines the most whenever its titular siren is onscreen. Lu is absolutely adorable, from her flowing green hair to her big smile to the way she starts enthusiastically dancing every time she hears one of Kai’s songs. The very definition of bubbly, it is impossible not to smile when she shows up — especially if she has one of her impossibly cute mer-puppies in tow. (That’s right, there are mer-puppies, and they are just as amazing as they sound.) When Lu is captured by the townsfolk, your heart will hurt, and when she’s free and bouncing through the coastal waves, you’ll want to jump up and join her.
It’s worth noting that the version of Lu Over the Wall that I watched was dubbed in English, with disappointing results. The English dialogue was, for the most part, goofy and stiff, and the voice actors were all excessively emoting, as though they felt their voices had to have the same over-the-top exuberance as the animation.
This is why, with the exception of Hayao Miyazaki’s films, which always recruit all-star casts of talented actors to record the English dubs, I always prefer to watch films in their given languages with English subtitles; the acting tends to be more natural and less jarring. So while I still enjoyed Lu Over the Wall, I’m sure I would have enjoyed it more in its native Japanese. Having said that, I imagine the young children who make up the target audience of the film will be less put off by this than I was.
Conclusion: Lu over the Wall
Lu Over the Wall has much to charm audiences, particularly those who are the younger than the film’s teenage protagonists. Its colorful, mind-bending animation is always enjoyable to watch, even if the story itself leaves something to be desired.
By the time the credits roll, you’ll feel as though you just devoured a sticky and delicious slice of cake in the middle of a messy, flour-covered kitchen; the end result is an undeniable treat, even if you wish the cook hadn’t managed to spill so much on the floor along the way.
Lu Over the Wall is in theaters in the U.S. on May 11, 2018 and was released in the UK on December 6, 2017. You can find more international release dates here.
Opinions expressed in our articles are those of the authors and not of the Film Inquiry magazine.