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The Joyful "Lu Over the Wall" Has a Few Missteps, but That Doesn't Mean It Isn't Great

Janeen Mathisen

Posted on March 28, 2020 12:06

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This unique and cheerful film by renowned director Masaaki Yuasa is worth the watch, despite its stumbles.

Very recently added to Netflix, Lu Over the Wall is a wacky comedy with gorgeously creative animation that, unfortunately, stumbles due to occasionally weak writing. The well-defined characters and realistic sense of setting make up for that—though, even that isn’t as strong as it could have been due to a sharp contrast in narrative tone that makes the entire film feel skewed and divided.

The story initially sets itself up as a drama, with a somber protagonist named Kai who lives on an island fishing village on its last legs in the fight to remain globally relevant. Businesses struggle, every single item in the village is out-of-date, and their once-promising theme park is buried underneath rust, ivy, and geographical isolation from the rest of the village.

And then Kai discovers a bubbly, curious child mermaid and the film’s tone flips upside down. The mermaid, Lu, can make humans dance at her will. Since she is attracted to the music Kai’s band plays, the story suddenly overflows with ecstatic dance numbers.

Director Masaaki Yuasa pulls out the all stops as his characters become endearingly elastic in their movements. It is a mesmerizing joy to watch, and as a great bonus the music is catchy, too.

Unique characters join the fray, but their presence only serves to divide the film further between sincere drama and genuine comedy. Lu’s shapeshifting shark father comes to rescue her when she is captured. They both nearly burn alive in a heart-wrenching scene. Yet, the father is one of the strongest comedic characters aside from Lu herself.

The film’s identity is half and half, and that seriously hampers its impact. Kai is a misplaced protagonist: his friend would have made a better one, since his struggles as the son of a shrine priest trap him between the two worlds of music and his religious duties.

Furthermore, characters such as their materialistic friend Yuho make unrealistic decisions that contort the kickoff of the final act. These characters’ struggles are engaging, but it’s as if they belong in a different story. This constant narrative flux breaks the immersion of what should be a charming, funny, and exciting film.

Despite this, there are many genuinely funny moments, and the animation is consistently wonderful. The character designs are attractive in their simplicity, and the environmental animation of ocean waves and the watercolor art of the village are phenomenal.

A memorable but unusual factor is that Yuasa almost never uses the color blue to depict the ocean, but rather bright green and buttercup yellow—yet it is always clearly the ocean; rooms flood with realistic repercussions and character outlines cleverly distort as they swim through powerful currents. The masterful animation and background paintings make this film a visual bouquet of undeniable wonder.

Despite hiccups in its narrative and character writing, Lu Over the Wall is a surprisingly delightful movie that keeps viewers engaged with captivating randomness. Although not perfect, it’s nevertheless worth more than one watch.

 

 

Janeen Mathisen

Posted on March 28, 2020 12:06

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