Lu Over the Wall

 

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A film that introduces us to another Japanese animator with an individual approach.

 
Lu Over the Wall
   

For many years now Japan has been a leader in the production of animated films and not only because of the brilliant work emanating from Studio Ghibli. Over the last few months, we have seen a number of such pieces by filmmakers less established here. If Your Name by Makoto Shinkai was the outstanding example, it should nevertheless be acknowledged that Masaaki Yuasa's Lu Over the Wall has won sufficient acclaim to earn the top prize this year at Annecy, that most notable of festivals dealing in animated work. If my own response is decidedly more muted, it is not only because Lu Over the Wall being set in a Japanese coastal tone and telling of sea creatures encountering humans puts one in mind of one of the great classics of Japanese animation and is duly overshadowed by it.

 

Studio Ghibli's Ponyo (2008) was a far more sophisticated work with strong appeal for all ages. At the outset, despite its comparable setting, Lu Over the Wall sets out quite agreeably as something very different. It introduces us to Kai and his two closest friends, Yuho, who would also like to be his girl, and Kumio. The three of them are youngsters who form a band and dream of escaping from the limited world of Hinachi Town. This is presented with liveliness and good humour and music plays a strong role. Indeed, I was reminded of a very appealing non-animated movie, John Carney's engaging Sing Street of 2016.

 

However, the film soon moves forward. First, it brings in Lu, a mermaid who feels the need for a friend and becomes attached to Kai who is entranced by her ability to sing. But this is a community in which many of those who do believe in the presence of merfolk regard then as a hostile force capable of eating humans. Before long the initially simple tale is cramming in all manner of extra elements including a seafood company with evil intentions, the exploitation of Lu by those locals who see her as a potential tourist attraction, a flood that threatens the town and mob action against the merfolk when Yuho goes missing and is thought to have become their victim.

 

Add also a subplot about a grandmother who years earlier lost her child to the sea and it all comes to seem overcrowded and, at 112 minutes, rather too long. Its drawn-out climax feels overblown. However, the animation is fine and there is plenty to engage us here including a merdog. Even so, the elaborations increasingly present in the second half only serve to underline the greater assurance and depth of Ponyo. Nevertheless, when content to stick to its own niche as a tale of youngsters caught up in music, Lu Over the Wall does make its mark and its theme of the desirability of communal harmony emerges loud and clear.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Voices of  Kanon Tani, Shôta Shimoda, Shin'ichi Shinohara, Minako Kotoburi, Soma Saito, Akira Emoto.

 

Dir Masaaki Yuasa, Pro Eunyoung Choi, Screenplay Reiko Yoshida and Masaaki Yuasa, Ph Batisto Perón, Art Dir Hiroshi Ohno, Ed Ayako Tan, Music Takatsugu Muramatsu.

 

Science Saru/TOHO Animation-Anime Limited.
112 mins. Japan. 2017. Rel: 6 December 2017. Cert. PG.