A confusing, charming mess of a takeoff on The Little Mermaid, Lu Over the Wall is several different films vying for attention, all of them various degrees of good. If you could, just for a minute, imagine what would happen if a Miyazaki film was rammed through a Looney Tunes filter, and I’m talking about a Bob Clampett/Tex Avery brand of free associative lunacy here, with a dash of rock and roll movie and coming-of-age story as garnishes. Picture this, and you’ll come very close to approximating the chaotic reverie that is Lu Over the Wall.
The problem isn’t that director Masaaki Yuasa is lacking in ideas, but that he’s got too many of them buffeting against each other at any given time. We must absorb the mermaid mythology that the film deploys, and keep various characters straight, including their personal tragedies and relations to one another. It becomes a Sisyphean task, and the quicker you learn to let go coherence and embrace the chaos the better your enjoyment will be.
Lu Over the Wall spits in the face of logic and just proceeds to entertain us with vibrancy, slapstick, pleasingly kooky pop/rock, and the sight of mer-dogs. Here, mermaids closely resemble vampires in their inability to make direct contact with sunlight and turn you into one of their ranks through a fang-filled bite. Lu also doesn’t look like any mermaid I’ve ever seen previously. Her head resembles a jellyfish attached to the body of a koi, and she grows legs and starts dancing whenever she hears music. Her love for music and dance proves infectious as she causes mass breakouts of what looks like an Irish jig in the small fishing village’s denizens.
Look, none of this makes any sense, and your mileage will inevitably vary on how interested you are in watching the closest approximation of a Bob Clampett Studio Ghibli cartoon. Me? I tuned right into its crazy wavelength shortly after its quiet introductory scenes gave way towards Lu manipulating the water around her into gigantic cube shapes that took flight. And that’s not even counting the sight of an enormous humanoid shark wearing a suit and smoking a pipe wandering the streets! Lu Over the Wall isn’t anywhere near perfect, but it’s a damn entertaining and original run through a well-worn mythology. That counts for something.