Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, OFCS and AWFJ member, as well as a Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic. Her work has been published on Variety, She Knows and Awards Circuit.
Courtney Howard // Film Critic
LU OVER THE WALL
LU OVER THE WALL is the exact sort of Japanese anime I dislike: animation that gives more weight to an over-pronunciation of emotions and sloppy character design than a realism-based drive. That said, there are a few good qualities that director Masaaki Yuasa’s feature holds – including its intense potential for cross-over appeal. With a kitschy color palette, bubbly pop soundtrack and a whimsy-driven narrative (the type Touchstone Pictures back in their heyday would’ve greenlit for live-action glory), the SPLASH-esque comedic farce certainly resonates. Any appeal beyond that, however, depends upon the viewer’s personal likes and dislikes.
Kai (voiced by Shôta Shimoda) is a withdrawn teen who finds solace in music. He’s got a secret/ not-so-secret YouTube following and yearns to make it out of his small seaside village. His grandfather and father urge him to give up his dreams as music attracts dangerous mermen to their cursed hamlet. Yuho (voiced by Minako Kotobuki) and Kunio (voiced by Soma Saito) invite him to play in their rock band at the abandoned amusement park. However, their group effort attracts a fresh catch – manic pixie dream mermaid Lu (voiced by Kanon Tani), whose fins turn to feet when she feels the beat. The lily-pad-clad, blue/green-haired heroine’s vocal stylings bring joy to the masses, putting songs in their hearts and flight to their feet. Can the teens hide Lu’s identity long enough to change Hirashi Bay’s judgmental citizens?
Yuasa, along with co-screenwriter Reiko Yoshida, instills sweet sentiments not only about about how the power of music can change minds and hearts, but also that prejudice can be eradicated, full stop. It’s certainly an admirable thing to put massively heartening art like this into the world in such dour times. The first act is solid, setting up the characters, their motivations and the burgeoning shenanigans.
That said, there’s still too much weight that threatens to sink the picture’s buoyancy. Why must all the characters yell when they are standing right next to each other? Do the voice actors completely exhaust themselves in each session screaming all their dialogue? Is it the direction, guiding them to keep the dial cranked up to eleven? It certainly exhausts and annoys me as an audience member.
There’s not a lot of cohesiveness with the character designer. Lu, her merdoggies (that are off-the-charts adorable) and her father look like they’ve been planted from a different movie into this one. Yes, it speaks to the fact they are from another world. But there are ways to do this without it appearing so jarring. How the human characters express themselves in their body posture also doesn’t add to any visual appeal. The rules of the mermen’s world are a tad muddled – and so are the reasons for Lu’s father surfacing to walk the streets of the village. Plus, the third act is left in need of a major overhaul, with an overly drawn out climax. It could use a twenty minute trim.
When all was said and done, LU OVER THE WALL wound up sending me over the edge.
LU OVER THE WALL played the Animation is Film Festival on October 22.