Film Review: Lu Over the Wall

A sweet tale of mermaid love blows its chance to be another 'Splash' through unappealing animation and a wayward storyline.
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Japanese anime features often begin with a lonely adolescent protagonist, and Lu Over the Wall is no exception. Director Masaaki Yuasa hones in on middle schooler Kai, depressed and adrift in the small fishing village of Hinashi. It’s been a grey and gloomy place ever since the populace rid the town of the magical sea creatures with whom they once lived in harmony.

Kai meets two classmates who want him to join their band and, in exchange for his participation, agree to take him to the magically inhabited Merfolk Island. There, Kai meets the mermaid Lu, who is enchanted by the music he creates and sings and dances up a storm to it. Lu becomes the band’s muse, but must be kept a secret because of the hostility her kind still faces in Hinashi.

It’s a sweet and wistful tale Yuasa spins here, which will doubtlessly appeal to disaffected, alienated kids and adults everywhere. Lu’s magic powers include her ability to transform any creature into a mer-beast, complete with fishtail and fins, and the movie is full of appealingly quirky supernatural moments, as when she deals with a passel of dogs perilously close to drowning. Two major problems amid all the enchantment, however, are the ramblingly diffuse narrative and the basically unappealing rendering of the characters, who often come across as too coarsely drawn, even grotesque. The myriad protagonists include a venerable, naturally sage grandfather, who recalls the tragic particulars of his mother’s death. The drawing of his unhappy backstory—more delicate, impressionistic and joyously awash in bright Matisse hues—has such an easy elán to it that I wish it had been retained for Kai’s story.

But the main aesthetic offender is Lu herself, who haplessly looks like some animated refugee from a cheaply produced 1970s toy commercial. Not helping matters is her personality, which is madcap, gay and free to a stomach-turning fare-thee-well. Yuasa’s intention to create complete bewitchment is somewhat foiled by his surprisingly errant taste level when it comes to the most important visual aspect of his wispy, watery confection.

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