During this years Sundance Film Festival, writer-director Masaaki Yuasa‘s newest film Lu Over the Wall premiered its English version, continuing the artfully animated film’s festival run. I had a chance to chat with the accomplished artist and filmmaker at the time. Now, since the musical mermaid movie is now set to arrive in U.S. theaters in limited release starting today, we wanted to bring that conversation to you.
Lu Over the Wall is a twist on the classic mermaid mythology that sees the title character–a precocious and curious mermaid–making herself known to a human boy in a local fishing village. What transpires is a light and airy tale of mischief, music, and socio-cultural conflict that ultimately leads to a change in the hard-hearted humans. Lu Over the Wall is a singular viewing experience that’s hard to compare to anything else in modern cinema, but if you love dynamic music, wildly artistic animation, and epic beach dance parties, you’ll want to check this film out. For a deeper dive on Lu Over the Wall, my chat with Masaaki Yuasa follows below.
What was it about this story that made you want to take up the director’s chair?
Masaaki Yuasa: Lu Over the Wall is an original story that I created and wrote, which I then animated. In the past, I had a story about a vampire girl and boy that interested me. This time, I wanted to make a story that children would be interested in, so that became Lu Over the Wall.
How did you come up with the twist on mermaid mythology?
Masaaki Yuasa: I wanted to use the traditional type of characters that we have in the story. The relationship between merfolk—mermaids—and people is that they find each other difficult to understand, but I wanted to make that into a kind of fun and enjoyable misunderstanding and then also create a film so that children as well as adults could enjoy.
Since music is such a big part of this movie, what is your personal relationship with music?
Masaaki Yuasa: I feel that music is something that we have to have, and if we didn’t have music, we would miss it very much. Sometimes I go to a concert and I feel like the only one who’s really into the music and feeling like I want to dance while other people around me don’t necessarily react that way, so I feel like they should be more into it.
In Lu, I brought out this aspect by showing that some of the people were very stiff and didn’t like to dance, but the merfolk were the ones having a lot of fun and liked to dance. I felt that they could influence each other and become friends through dance.
How did you go about finding the movie’s specific sound?
Masaaki Yuasa: For each scene, I thought of what would give that scene a kind of excitement and chose pieces of music, or had them composed, for those scenes. The last song that the characters’ sing, I hadn’t really decided on that song at the beginning of the film, but I thought that would be a very fitting end to the film. That is the “Ballad of a Singer,” which is a popular song from the past. I used that song because I thought it was the best fit.
Do you have any personal connections to growing up in a small fishing village like in the movie? If not, why set the movie there versus a bigger city?
Masaaki Yuasa: The story if one in which the town becomes liberated and, in order to show that, I thought it would be best if I could show a compact town, a unique town, and show how the people in that town become more liberated. Recently, I’ve heard from relatives and other young people that they’re in a quandary of whether to go to the big city, whether to go to Tokyo or not when they’re from a small town. I thought that was something that we struggled with in the past, such as when I was growing up, but I realize that it still exists unchanged, that’s still a problem for young people growing up today in the smaller towns. There’s a big pressure on them, the pressure of, if they go into the big city, then they never really come home. Or a fear of the big city and wondering if they can really make it in the big city. This film is one that shows that it’s best to be able to honestly express your feelings, such as being afraid or not having courage. One of the themes is pressure and fear of going to the big city, or staying in a small town.