Based on Tomihiko Morimi’s bestselling book of the same name, this questionable anime drama (Yoru wa Mijikashi Arukeyo Otome in Japanese) sees Saitama pop star Gen Hoshino play Senpai (‘senior’), a guy with a major crush on a younger colleague, impersonally referred to as Kuro Kami no Otome (‘The Girl with the Black Hair’).
One night, both are in attendance at an evening get-together which blossoms into a burlesque night-time voyage across the labyrinthine city. Amidst the pandemonium, in a bid to satisfy his romantic aspirations, Senpai begins taking drastic measures to try and impress the girl of his dreams.
Director Masaaki Yuasa is a very established animator, screenwriter and director, having worked on shows like Crayon Shin-chan and Adventure Time. This is his second time adapting Morimi’s novels: The Tatami Galaxy (2010) won plaudits for its bold style and scintillating directorial originality.
Here, Yuasa’s frames bristle with colour, some scene transitions are remarkable feats of editing, and the environment designs adeptly fuse Japanese aesthetics and motifs with French animation techniques that owe a hat tip to Sylvain Chomet’s The Triplets of Belleville.
Musically, the tone is surprisingly European, incorporating Disneyland-esque waltzes, jaunty woodwind numbers and even a little tango. These feel a little at odds with the distinctly Japanese daruma dolls, cherry blossom petals and festival lanterns on display throughout.
Kuro Kami no Otome has a likeable disposition, but she is always the object – never the subject – of desire, intrigue or surveillance. This imbues the film with a sense of ‘male gaze’ that makes it unnerving. Said sentiment is only reinforced by the film’s seeming attempts to downplay its creepier subtexts. For example, Senpai nonchalantly agrees to use video surveillance on his crush, then uses that data to psychologically manipulate her into liking him, which – unbelievably – works.
The Night is Short plays its best hand in the first act. As spectacle it’s arresting, but the lack of character development eventually becomes mind-numbing. Casting a stalker as protagonist and seemingly normalising that behaviour only further complicates a problematic screenplay.
By George Art Baker