2010s

Exploring Gender in Masaaki Yuasa’s ‘The Night Is Short, Walk on Girl’

The Night Is Short, Walk on Girl Movie Film

In anime culture, Masaaki Yuasa is most well-known for making off-beat, surreal films which feature odd, colourful creatures and logic-defying narratives. The Night Is Short, Walk on Girl (Yoru wa mijikashi aruke yo otome) is no exception. It’s Yuasa’s second foray into the romantic comedy genre, based on his 11-part television series The Tatami Galaxy. Whereas the TV version is a Groundhog Day-style comedy, The Night Is Short, Walk on Girl leans more into a traditional storyline.

Yuasa’s plot is relatively simple: Senpai (the man in the story) has spent his life trying to win the affections of Kohai (the woman) through a series of seemingly-accidental meetings, yet none of them ever result in a conversation between the two. The Night Is Short, Walk on Girl depicts an evening in which Senpai tries to win Kohai’s affections in weird situations, with Yuasa upending the gender dynamics of heterosexual relationships. The director is clearly literate in the romantic comedy genre, evidenced by the way he frames the two nameless protagonists (who are based on common genre archetypes).

The traditional heterosexual male in the romantic genre is awkward in an endearing way. He will have some kind of personality flaw which acts to his detriment, and his female counterpart can usually see beyond the perceived lack of self-confidence. In Groundhog Day, Phil Connors (Bill Murray) is a hopeless cynic; in Say Anything, Lloyd Dobler (John Cusack) is an underachiever, dogged by self-confidence issues. These dynamics can be found in everything from When Harry Met Sally to the 2019 film Long Shot. The second constant in those films is that the woman is a foil for the male’s journey — she often exists only to support an emotional journey, even if she gets a few of her own comic set-pieces along the way.

The Night Is Short, Walk on Girl Movie Film

Not so in The Night Is Short, Walk on Girl.  For the majority of the film, Kohai is mostly unaware of Senpai. Instead of focusing on obvious admirer, Kohai engages with the side characters, as she’s more concerned with enjoying the night and seeing where it’ll take her. It’s a concept which diverges significantly from one of the central tenets of the romance genre in all of its forms — that in a film’s first act, the central couple will meet. Instead, Yuasa makes Kohai the proactive one in charge of what happens to her, and it’s Senpai who has to jump through a series of narrative hoops to get what he wants. As a result, the male protagonist’s hang-ups are his to smooth out; there’s nobody who’s going to do it for him, least of all Kohai. Here, the concepts of traditional masculinity and femininity are blurred until they’re completely non-existent. It would be disingenuous to say that Senpai is a character who represents “new masculinity” — men who sport feminine attire and consciously denounce traditional gender norms — but he boosts a genre that’s still dogged by heteronormativity and the inability of its male characters to proactively work on their faults.

However, there are other characters in The Night Is Short, Walk on Girl  who represent gender as it is in the real world: Don Underpants, a man still desperate to meet a woman he had a chance encounter with in the past, and The School Festival Executive Head, who is revealed to be gender non-conforming during a musical number. In a refreshing turn, this is no issue for Don Underpants: he’s just as interested in The School Festival Executive Head regardless, and it’s nice to see a film which takes the possibility of a relationship between those two characters seriously. The Night Is Short, Walk on Girl does fall a little short here — both in content and in run-time. It’s the rare film that could have benefitted from being longer. After all, there is no resolve for the characters. The audience never finds out what happens to them, and that comes across as a slight cop-out. Earlier in The Night Is Short, Walk on Girl , Yuasa dreams up all kinds of unexpected and quirky events to befall the two protagonists — yet towards the end, he comes up empty. This could have been intentional, of course. Still, very few films deal with gender non-conforming characters in a well-rounded way, andThe Night Is Short, Walk on Girl contributes to the issue. What could have been done instead? In a perfect world, the character arcs would reach a satisfying climax, rather than being pushed aside so the main narrative could be picked up again. Instead, The Night Is Short, Walk on Girl  feels like an inadvertent political statement, a continuation of the status quo in the romantic comedy genre.

Still, there is something there. Yuasa’s earlier works have a free-form, haywire quality to them. The most impressive thing about them is that although they’re a lot to process, there’s a sense that everything is meticulously planned. The Night Is Short, Walk on Girl is a film that shows genuine innovation, and one that proves Yuasa understands the ins and outs of the romantic comedy genre.

Frazer MacDonald (@frazermac44) is a freelance film critic. He’s mostly interested in the horror genre, but also has a pretty keen interest in animated films, particularly the works of Studio Ghibli.

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