Singing mermaids and four seasons in one night: these are the fantastical worlds that Masaaki Yuasa has created in his latest films Lu Over the Wall and The Night is Short, Walk on Girl. Famed for his freeform style and one of the most exciting directors working in anime today, Yuasa made a name for himself with avant-garde TV series such as Ping Pong and The Tatami Galaxy, and his signature freeform style and bountiful creativity are both on full display in his two new movies. MyM’s Roxy Simons sat down with him in London to discuss his two new films…
Lu Over the Wall and The Night is Short, Walk on Girl were both released this year. Why did you decide to make two films at the same time?
It actually took two or three years to make both films. While I was working on Lu Over the Wall, the other one came up suddenly, so I decided to work on both at the same time. The problem is that it’s always difficult to keep the same animation staff together from one project to the next. They work up until post-production and then head off to do other things. So I thought the sooner we work on these films the better! I was also told that, from a sales point of view, it would be good to release something that people were familiar with already like Night is Short, Walk on Girl [based on the novel by Tomihiko Morimi, author of The Tatami Galaxy] before releasing my original animation.
What was the inspiration behind Lu Over the Wall and why did you want to make a children’s film?
I originally had this idea about vampires and wanted to make a feature film about them. Lu Over the Wall was going to be targeted to junior high school students to begin with and then it turned into a film that was for kids. This is also my first original feature film, so I wanted to make something that’s very traditional in anime, something that I had seen as a child – like, say, the films of Disney, Pixar, Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata. It was like old Toei anime, what we used to call ‘manga films’ – very simple.
How did your idea develop from being a vampire story into one about mermaids?
We began to discuss it when production started and we thought we should change it to something that is more traditionally Japanese. We came up with the idea of monsters in the mountains, but then somebody said it has to be cuter, it has to be kawaii. So we decided to make it about mermaids. We didn’t want to do anything super modern or new, because we wanted to make something for everyone and that everyone could understand; something that was already established like mermaids. It’s still got that vampire element in it, though, because the mermaids bite people like a vampire!
You wrote this story with Reiko Yoshida, who recently worked on the screenplay for A Silent Voice. What was that collaboration like?
We’d worked together before on a TV series called Kasumin. Really, her script for that show was fantastic and I wanted to work with her again. I do write stories myself, but Reiko is excellent at constructing stories and scripts, as well as visualising things through words, so I really admire her. A Silent Voice was really great too!
Music is very important in Lu Over the Wall. How did it become a focus for the story?
Lu Over the Wall is set in a very closed, traditional town and our mermaid is the opposite of that, and the music represents this. Gradually, the people accept the music and they become more open to other things, so I think that’s a metaphor for her.
Speaking of reunions, The Night is Short features music by Michiru Oshima, whom you’d worked with on Tatami Galaxy…
She’s a really talented songwriter and she enjoys participating in the production process with me. With the TV series, she had 30, 40, 50 songs ready, and we chose the best ones for the show, but the music for the film was specifically composed for it. So, she would rewrite songs, compose things and ask us what we thought about them; it was more of a collaborative effort. Even during the recording, we talked a lot and she changed things so that the music would fit perfectly with the film.
The Night is Short, Walk on Girl is your second adaptation of a Morimi novel. What draws you to his work?
His novels are actually quite difficult to make into animations, and the reason I like them is because the language that he uses is really attractive and actually quite fun. But there’s always some kind of undercurrent or undertone behind his work, so it’s an interesting challenge to try and visually create what he’s written.
Was Morimi involved in the film’s production?
Not really. He wasn’t very involved in this movie – or Tatami Galaxy, for that matter – but he did ask me to make sure that it is very ‘Kyoto-esque’. When people think of Kyoto, they think of its traditional side and classical culture, but actually it’s a very vibrant city full of students. It’s also a very stylish place. I wanted to portray modern Kyoto rather than classic Kyoto.
You used traditional animation for Tatami Galaxy. Was that the case in The Night is Short too?
Yes, it was pretty much the same. Obviously, the book is written by the same author, and actually this film was supposed to come out right after Tatami Galaxy, so they needed to look the same as they’re a pair – they’re sister titles.
Would you like to adapt more of Morimi’s novels?
Yes, I think we get on really well, so I would love to adapt another one – and I’ve got quite a few in mind! There’s a third novel after Tatami Galaxy and The Night is Short, Walk on Girl called The Tower of the Sun, so I’d definitely like to make that.
You have a varied art style, but there are still similarities between Lu Over the Wall and The Night is Short. How did you adapt your style to both films?
I always think about being open whenever I make stuff, so when you are looking at these characters, it’s important that you know how they are feeling and what they are thinking. This shouldn’t be constant, but I just want my characters to portray a lot of emotion.
A few years ago, you set up your own animation company, Science Saru. What has that been like?
Around that time, there were quite a few challenges for creators and we wanted to make things better for ourselves. So Saru is a group of creators, basically. Usually, we can’t see the business side of things, so we accept it as is it. However, I thought that we would never know until we tried it ourselves. We wanted to make the environment better for everyone – all the creators, not just ourselves – so that we have an environment where we can make what we want, when we want. Obviously, it’s not going to be a radical change, but hopefully we can change things little-by-little.
What are you working on at the moment?
Development is coming up next year. I was thinking of a lot of stories while working on post-production for Lu Over the Wall, so now I want to make one of them. It’s something fun, but that’s all I can tell you for now!
- The Night Is Short, Walk On Girl ANIME REVIEW
- Genius Party/Genius Party Beyond ANIME REVIEW
- Netflix Announces Loads Of Original Anime Series & Godzilla Movie