Thirsting for a deeply whimsical, relentlessly playful, and intensely sweet spectacle? Then the splashy animated adventure Lu Over The Wall was made for you. Writer/director Masaaki Yuasa takes the boy-meets-mermaid base of The Little Mermaid and spins a magical and mirthful tale of love, music, and culture clash.
Living in a small seaside village, sullen teen Kai (Shôta Shimoda) dreams of growing up to be a musician. But his family shuns the idea of a creative career for reasons practical and personal. Kai’s mother is a professional dancer, whose ambitions drove her away from her home and family. His father declares the most viable jobs are ones in the local fishing industry, while his grandfather warns that music attracts the merfolk he claims killed Kai’s grandmother ages ago. But nothing can silence the song in Kai’s heart. One night, he spots a splash outside his window. And after reluctantly joining up with a couple of classmates to form the band Siren, Kai meets cute with Lu, a mermaid with an amorphous fish tank of water for hair, whose pink tail transforms into legs when the music moves her to dance.
Like Kai’s grandfather, the villagers fear the merfolk, whose culture they don’t understand. They keep these fishy neighbors at a distance behind a massive wall-like island. But once Lu befriends the teen trio of Siren, the metaphorical walls between these groups come tumbling down, causing spirited dancing, unnervingly fresh sushi, ignorance-fueled conflict, and a climactic catastrophe that demands humans and merfolk work together to save the town. Amid all this, Yuasa weaves a joyful and largely chaste romance between Kai and Lu, one that allows the introverted protagonist to blossom into a happy and confident hero. Plus, there are merpuppies! (I don’t have much to say about these other than they are so adorable that they should be in all movies.)
Yuasa has made a name with more mature animated fare like Devilman: Crybaby, Mind Game and Ping Pong. But to be frank, I’ve seen none of the above, making Lu Over The Wall my introduction to his style. And I’m hooked. There’s an alluring fluidness to his design that dares us to flex our imaginations as we take in his wonderful world, where a giant business-suit-wearing shark-man can stride on land relatively unnoticed. Lu shapeshifts with a playful ease as her quick-evolving legs festively flail in a contagious dance, that even transforms the stiff villagers’ physicality into that of an old-school Betty Boop cartoon. Limbs go rubbery, happily commanded by Siren’s songs. And as Siren’s ska-like jam blasts, our hearts are lifted to jubilance.
There’s also a thematic element to this fluid aesthetic. While Kai’s world is stiff and rendered to reflect the real world, Lu’s introduction shows the magic of transformation that can come from daring to dream and opening yourself up to other cultures. She brings color into Kai’s dull world. This thoughtfully reflects the sensation of new love, in which everything seems new, fresh, and alive with wonder.
There’s an earnest heart beating at this film’s core. While all the merfolk stuff is gleefully fantastical and fun, Kai and his friends deal with relatable teen issues, like unrequited crushes, insecurity, and painful generation gaps. Kai and each of his buddies will have to face off against their parents to plead for acceptance of their passions and their new friend. But Yuasa manages these scenes with a vibrant levity that’s less Degrassi and more Disney. Which is all to say Lu Over The Wall is a totally enchanting crowdpleaser for all ages.
Lu Over The Wall
Lu Over The Wall is now in select theaters.