A black haired girl is walking around the streets of Kyoto, from the night scene of Pontocho to a second-hand book fair in Shimogamo, then off to a college fair. The main character that has a romantic feeling for her secretly follows her around and looks for the opportunities to run into her in a manner that seems like a coincidence. Unfortunately for him, she is not interested in love yet so she does not notice his feelings. What waits these two characters are crazy incidents caused by individuals such as a person who introduces himself as a Japanese mythical creature Tengu, the god of second-hand book or the money lender in a three story vehicle.
"Yoru wa Mijikashi, Arukeyo Otome" (or "The Night is Short, Walk On, Young Maiden") is a film by director Masaaki Yuasa based on the similarly titled novel by author Tomihiko Morimi. If you are at all familiar with Yuasa's previous works as well as Morimi's adapations (including the Yuasa adaptation of "Yojouhan Shinwa Taikei"), there's a good chance you'll know exactly what you're getting into by watching this film.
To put it simply: this movie is an utter, frenetic delight.
The story, without spoiling too much, is a perfect match for the big screen. Covering the events of a single lively night in the imaginative world of
Morimi's Kyoto, it's not often you see so much happen in such a short amount of time. Fans of "Yojouhan" will be familiar with the unforgiving speed of the dialogue, but as you'd expect with a film adaptation, the story events move just as quickly, with scene after scene transitioning wildly into the next. To add to that, the content is as surreal as ever despite the simple premise. Most of the scenes are thoroughly steeped in a sort of magic realism, the characters seeing the strangely off-kilter world—in which people claim to be local deities, loan sharks travel along the rivers, students run around hosting guerrilla theater productions, and everyone seems to have bottomless stomachs—with a sense of relative acceptance. Though this kind of storytelling seems like it would be hard to follow, I surprisingly never got lost, as the story itself is fairly straightforward and the motivations clear.
That's not to say the film's design is simple as well, however. Yuasa's portrayal of Kyoto at night is as much his as it is Morimi's. Every crevice of the city is brimming with life and abstract design to match the surreal events of the story, and following the characters as they jump from narrow, pub-filled alleyways to bustling marketplaces in the middle of the night, from brightly-lit restaurants to unreal, technological command-rooms almost feels like watching a fever dream unfold. In every new scene, the nighttime city evolves more and more into a fantastic, magical maze of mythology and wonder, something that only the combined imaginative force of Yuasa and Morimi could produce. Add to that the wild, exaggerated, but uniquely simplistic art style and the light, delightful soundtrack, and the end result is something truly refreshing.
As was the case with "Yojouhan" as well, the characters are a complete joy to watch. All of them are immensely varied in personality but still somehow all manage to stay afloat amidst the chaos of the story as they effortlessly weave in and out of plot. In particular, the black-haired maiden, voiced by the equally delightful Kana Hanazawa, carries the show with her indomitable charm and a refusal to let herself be slowed down by what happens around her, instead almost encouraging the story to grow even more wild. I was a little unsure about the male protagonist at first, but his personality proves to be an invaluable foil that really seals the movie's conclusion for the better and makes for a very satisfying ending. The side cast is also extremely memorable and full of strange, amusing personalities that somehow work in perfect conjunction with each other despite being so unique and energetic.
Of course, this movie isn't without its flaws. I'm honestly not even sure "flaws" is the best way to word it, but for better or for worse, there are a couple of scenes and subplots that seem to be drawn out a little excessively, albeit in true Yuasa fashion. (They certainly serve a purpose, but the experience is still a little jarring and they tend to break the flow.) In addition is the large cast. While the major side characters are given surprising depth and background despite the movie length, I feel this very strength takes away from the development of the two main characters slightly due to the limited time. Also, a lot of the more minor characters are thrown into the story a little too haphazardly. While it does add to the overall exciting and chaotic atmosphere, it can be a little overwhelming at times, and the sheer number of characters gives each of their stories somewhat less impact.
This brings me to how much this movie references earlier works. In every recess of the film are nods to previous Morimi adaptations and Yuasa films, including the use of many character designs from "Yojouhan" and even featuring a brief cameo from the director's as-of-this-moment not-yet-released film, "Yoake Tsugeru Lu no Uta." This has the wonderful effect of allowing us to enter the all-too-familiar Morimi universe with minimal amounts of exposition, but it presents a somewhat high barrier of entry for people that might not be familiar with "Yojouhan Shinwa Taikei" and, to a much lesser degree, "Uchoten Kazoku." Although not entirely necessary to enjoy the film, I strongly recommend watching "Yojouhan" beforehand to get a firm grasp on the characters of this eccentric universe so you'll appreciate the film that much more.
All in all, "Yoru wa Mijikashi" is an immensely delightful experience. Every second of it is filled with undeniable charm and gorgeous imagination, and the breakneck pace of the story and transitions alongside the quirky cast of characters brimming with personality come together to take the audience on a wild ride really unlike anything else. I highly recommend it.
Note: I got to see this at a special premiere screening in my city, with Masaaki Yuasa himself in attendance! He's a very lovely guy. I hope that hasn't biased my review too much.
This film is closely intertwined with The Tatami Galaxy, a previous Yuasa-directed work. Their original novels were written by the same author, they share a setting in Kyoto and apparently take place in the same universe - many characters from TG pop up here and there in NiS, if not always in the way you expect them to. It's not strictly a sequel, but you'll get much more out of the film
if you've seen Tatami, so that's something to consider.
Night is Short, much like Tatami Galaxy, is a bit of a difficult sell plot-wise - it focuses mostly on a college student only named Senpai whose only goal is to win the heart of his crush, the titular Girl, over the course of a night in which the two are out and about in Kyoto. Of course, it's not quite that simple- inventive camerawork and use of surrealism turn what could have been a very dull story into an amazingly fun adventure through Kyoto with a bouncy, dynamic cast of lovable characters.
Without revealing too much, the film retains Tatami Galaxy's distinctive, surreal visual style and sense of humour, but is much more lighthearted, comedic, and amazingly over-the-top in places without missing out on conveying its own messages. If you liked Tatami Galaxy, I can practically guarantee you'll love Night is Short.
The increased film budget combined with Yuasa's direction style lead to some beautiful animation sequences, and the Girl is so amazingly cheery, she can't help but grab your interest. An easy 10/10 from me, but then again I also loved Tatami.