Visionary anime auteur Masaaki Yuasa's Lu Over the Wall, winner of the Grand Prix at the highly prestigious Annecy Animation Film Festival and an official selection at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival, will arrive in Indy for a limited arthouse run at the Landmark Keystone Art Cinema courtesy of GKIDS, the leading voice here in the U.S. for distribution of animated features.
I have to admit that I chuckled when I saw Lu Over the Wall described as a "hallucinogenic yet family friendly" film, yet much to my surprise such a description is remarkably true.
The film is a classic take on a fairy tale involving a mermaid named Lu who decides to come ashore to join a middle-school rock band and propel them to fame.
Beyond Lu, much of Lu Over the Wall centers around Kai, a boy who spends most of his days simply wandering unenthusiastically about after relocating to a small fishing village after his family moves from Tokyo. Kai's main joy in life is uploading songs he's written to the internet. He resists when classmates invite him to play keyboards in their band, but his presence is that which brings Lu to the surface and Lu's entire being changes when she hears the music, her fins turn into feet and everyone around her can't resist infectious dancing every time she sings.
As Kai and Lu spend time together, the connection that Kai has longed for begins to develop as he learns he can tell her most anything without fear of judgment. The only problem is that those who live in the small fishing village in which Kai lives have long-held beliefs that mermaids bring disaster and it's no long before the entire town is in chaos.
Lu Over the Wall is co-written and directed by acclaimed animator Masaaki Yuasa, whose most recent work likely familiar to Americans is the animated series Devilman Crybaby.
Lu Over the Wall has, at times, been favorably compared to the recent Paddington films and it's a fair comparison given this film's practically bathing the viewer in childlike wonder and wondrous, at times hallucinogenic fantasy. The film has a spirit and an energy that is almost impossibly infectious, a remarkable achievement given that at least a couple of the key characters quite often have a melancholy affect.
One can easily tell that Yuasa has frequently worked within episodic shows as Lu Over the Wall contains a story far bigger than the nearly two-hour running time that it's given. While this doesn't ruin the film, far from it, it does make the film the kind of film you wish you could sit down with week after week watching and learning more about these characters.
Despite my desire for more, what I do get with Lu Over the Wall is incredible to behold. Yuasa embraces a style of animation that perfectly weaves together the best of both Eastern and Western styles of animation. The film is practically filmed to the brim with dance sequences that are vibrant, at times almost slapstick, yet embody a devotion to fantasy and rhythm that detours from realism in favor of wonder.
The set pieces, even those that don't necessarily feel connected to the overall story, are awe-inspiring. I mean, we're talking mer-doggies and hopefulness and challenging perception and a story that is simple yet sweet, downright weird yet so completely immersed in good nature that it's impossible to not fall completely in love with it.
Lu Over the Wall opens in Indianapolis at the Landmark Keystone Art on May 11th with indie distributor GKIDS. It's a family friendly film, PG-rated, and there's enough incredible goodness in it to please fans of animated features young and old except, perhaps, for those who demand nothing more than CGI distractions and an abundance of hyper-tech. At times incredibly wondrous, frequently amazing, occasionally weird and easily one of 2018's best animated features. Catch it while you have the chance.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic