Masaaki Yuasa made a splash with his frenetic and eccentric Night is Short, Walk on Girl (2017), but the animator and director has been honing his craft for years. He has contributed to TV cartoon series such as Chibi Maruko Chan (1990), and Adventure Time (2014), as well as the quirky feature film, Nekojiru-so, (Cat Soup, 2001).
This year, the Tokyo International Film Festival pays tribute to his lengthy yet still rather low-key body of work. The World Of Masaaki Yuasa features four full length films, and a collection of shorts selected by Masaaki himself.
Night is Short, Walk on Girl entertained Montreal audiences at the 2017 Fantasia Film Festival, and has since enticed viewers to seek out more of Masaaki’s work. The hodge-podge of different animation styles creates an extraordinary world where lead character, only known as Sempai chases the night in hopes of conquering his unrequited love. The scenario, dialogue and overall character quirks are hilarious. At times the events are so quick-paced that it’s hard to catch a breath between scenes. It is best viewed more than once to catch all the details. Alternately, the viewer may allow themself to fall into the crazy world based on Tomihiko Morimi’s novel of the same name (illustrated by Yuusuke Nakamura), and just go with the flow. The flow is intense and switches locations very fast, but this aligns itself with the whole point of Sempai’s quest. He doesn’t have time for nonsense (but happens to run into a lot of it!), and must win over his love by night’s end. A sidenote – Sempai’s character is voiced by popular Japanese singer-songwriter Hoshino Gen, who is known for his own quirky-nerd yet hip-cool persona. Watching Sempai’s antics, the casting choice is perfect.
Lu Over the Wall (2017) takes a slightly more calm approach, but retains some of the classic style quirks Masaaki and his team is known for. Exaggerated facial expressions, squashy-and-squishy motion as used in old school 2D animation, and unusual characters. There is also always a hint of fantasy or otherworldliness that in Lu’s case, fits perfectly. Lu is a young mermaid (or, as in Japanese lore, a ningyo aka “human fish”). She permeates the world of (human) boy, Kai. Kai is lonely and likes to write music. He frequents band practice with his friends on a getaway island that the townsfolk vilify for its abundant merfolk. A very ‘soft’ romantic comedy (these are young kids – no smoochy-smooching, just a sense of friendship-cum-vague puppy love) with a message about being more accepting to people (or creatures) who are different. Trivia for Cinetalk’s Montreal readers: It is interesting to note that the original key frames were hand-drawn, but cleaned up and inbetweened in Adobe Flash. This was a popular trend in Montreal animation studios in the early 2000’s.
Masaaki is in attendance at TIFF 2018, and has put together an array of shorts that might be new to folks who have only seen his more recent directorial work. Running almost as a demo reel, new fans can get a sense of Masaaki’s own animation (as with newer films, he tends to not do the artwork, but rather, direct the projects)
Kick-Heart (2013) is a rather nonsensical and 70s-like psychedelic tale about a wrestler and a nun. And some BDSM. And no, not in the manner one would expect. It is used more as humor than titillation. The film comes off a little bit like a second-year animation student’s class project, but an ambitious one at that. Squash and stretch, sketchy lines and glow effects are reminiscent of older classic animations, and it’s strange to think this was made in 2013 through a Kickstarter campaign!
Creepy-cute Happy Machine (a segment from the Genius Party anthology, 2008) is a fever dream of bizarre encounters between a baby and the world around him. The stylizing and morphing between scenes and concepts is extremely reminiscent of Nekojiru-So. Both films share certain visual and storytelling motifs, including Time, a certain flower, a bearded God figure, and a friend melting away when water and fire don’t get along. Baby seems to be trapped in a Truman Show (Peter Weir, 1998) type false universe, but what he finds beyond it is probably just as strange. A weird and beautiful feast for the eyes, combining different animation techniques.
The collection features the following shorts:
Adventure Time : Food Chain
Space Dandy Episode 16: Slow and Steady Wins the Race, Baby
Genius Party: Happy Machine
The Adventures of Buriburizaemon
Chibi Maruko Chan: My Favorite Song: “Drag Race 1969” & “Shopping Boogie”
You can still catch Masaaki’s feature length creations, Lu Over the Wall and Mind Game
(DEVILMAN Crybaby and Night is Short, Walk on Girl were also part of the Masaaki spotlight)
Lu Over the Wall – TOHO Cinemas, Roppongi Hills, 10:05 AM, October 28th, 2018.
Mind Game – TOHO Cinemas, Roppongi Hills, 5:25 PM, November 1st, 2018.
Masaaki Yuasa self selection short films – TOHO Cinemas, Roppongi Hills, 8:30 PM, November 1st, 2018.