Gyo, Tokyo Fish Attack was not the film I thought that would spring to mind while watching Masaaki Yuasa’s Lu Over The Wall. This is a family friendly film after all about a small mermaid who befriends a sullen boy in a sunless town, bringing joy and music to all she meets.
Hinashi (lit. sunless), the setting for the film, has a literal shadow cast over it by an imposing cliff that separates the town’s waters from the bay, populated by mermen and ship wrecks alike. From these waters springs the titular Lu who is attracted by the music that flows from an unlikely trio, one lost in his own malaise, another struggling with the responsibility of inheriting an empire, and another who just wants to go with the flow.
Thematically as well as literally then there are shadows cast, but Gyo definitely isn’t one of them. That came from the fish skeletons that reanimate and swarm the streets of the sleepy little seaside town. Somewhere along the way then, the bite (but not kiss or hug) of a mermaid can turn any animal, human or otherwise, into another near immortal mermaid. It can also create zombie fish, go figure.
The quiddities of mermaids is somewhat irrelevant in a film that, in true Masaaki Yuuasa style, favours feeling over detail. That’s not to say there isn’t detail in the town, or the people, but that the heart warming sense of wonder and joy that you get watching a whole town tap their feet and swing their legs is what matters most.
There is drama of course when things, predictably, don’t go as planned when more than the central trio find out about Lu and her special powers just as there is humour in seeing a giant shark with a top hat waiting out a patch of sunshine in order to get to city hall. Drama for the characters as well whose arcs all echo that theme of a town content with the status quo or overshadowed by the past, colliding as they do in the film’s spectacular climax.
That shadow then is also over the film by films similar such as Ghibli’s Ponyo, or the seaside pathos-parade that was Nagi no Asukara, or even Your Name with the scene of townspeople clinging to the high ground all too familiar when dealing with the emotional aftermath of the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami. What’s important though is that those works may be evoked either by setting or circumstance, but none of them have the energy or sense of elation that pulses throughout the entirety of this film.
Lu herself is a firecracker of few words but raucous dance moves, yet even the female guitar player (of the band Siren, of course) moves with a kind of spindly gambol that Yuasa’s animation style fits so perfectly. The rubbery, exaggerated movements as an enraged father rushes to his daughter’s aid or the faint of a businessman that has seen too much. Everything glows or pops or sloshes around with a hugely satisfying tactility just as every step and hug is felt.
Lu Over The Wall is a film that is experienced, one that leaves a lasting sense of contentment and fulfilment at having seen and heard it. Sure Lu may summon a vocaloid when she sings but that again is a detail that matters little in the rowdy, gratifying whole that’s an unexpected but absolute blast from start to finish.