Lu Over The Wall, the latest film from Japanese director Masaaki Yuasa, is an ace new entry in the small but strong pool of animation centred around mermaid or fish-people, alongside Disney’s The Little Mermaid and Studio Ghibli’s Ponyo.
Following his parents’ separation, glum teenager Kai lives in his father’s home in a rural fishing town. This town is one where interests in music and dancing are largely discouraged in the young folk. This is less a Footloose situation, though, and more an apparent precaution based around local superstition: mermaids, seen as deadly, are believed to be drawn to the sound of music.
Kai reluctantly joins a band with two classmates and, to avoid parental disapproval, the trio rehearses in secret in an abandoned theme park a short boat ride away. Sure enough, though, their practicing attracts the attention of a young mermaid, Lu, who joins in with their songs. Music causes her to temporarily sprout legs, which also allows her to dance on land.
Lu has various powers, such as control over water at night and the ability to transform other creatures into merfolk with a bite – the latter makes up one of the film’s set-piece highlights, in which a dog shelter is emptied as the pups find a new life under the sea.
Lu has weaknesses, though, such as natural sunlight while on land meaning her kind can burst into flames, akin to vampires. Though Kai is hesitant, the band tries to integrate Lu among the locals, to generally favourable results until one misunderstanding leads to Lu’s capture, an attempted rescue by her shark-life father, and an ancient curse being activated.
If this sounds like quite a lot of plot, that speaks to Lu’s one real point of contention, which is that this material might thrive in a TV series format with more breathing room. That said, Yuasa’s film is consistently entertaining, full of endearing characters, great humour, inspired character designs, and a propulsive energy even when there’s a risk of overload with subplots.