“Night is Short, Walk on Girl”: Alice in Wonderland Through a Kaleidoscope

By: Daniel Volfson

This noir fever dream of a movie is the quintessential hidden gem. It’s a frenetic, kaleidoscopic head-trip that restlessly lunges ecstatic images and devilishly funny plot twists at you at every juncture. It’s propelled by an energy that refuses to be contained. It must, under any circumstances, plow forward, or the screen risks bursting into flames. It’s told in a series of animated skits that unfold in the manner of an overstimulating psychedelic trip—but unlike most raving psychedelic trips, this one is coherently and intricately structured. For all its narrative stunt-pilotry and animated mayhem, it has an underlying logic that binds its chaos into a seamless whole. At many times, it’s so eerily, spontaneously brilliant that we feel the characters on the screen are improvising of their own volition. Instead of falling down the rabbit hole, Alice took acid; the result is inventive beyond your wildest inebriated dreams.

On a typically lively Tokyo night, a college girl sets out on a journey which becomes ever-more bizarre the longer the night drags on. Fueled by a ravenous thirst for booze and a mortal need to remedy her Friday night stasis, the girl saunters on indefatigably. Her literally bottomless stomach allows her to consume lethal amounts of liquor without suffering any ravaging after-effects. She gradually gains a steady following of carousers who become as devoted to her aimless wanderings as she is. Shadowy figures pass in and out of their interminable journey. There’s a leering elderly pervert who tries to bed young girls with the all the textbook ploys (wise father-figure, pitiable wretch, etc.) while running a “bedroom investigation bureau” on the side, a pathologically timid boy who’s in love with her and who spends his days orchestrating “coincidental” encounters in the hope that eventually she’ll realize they were fated to be, an embittered old man who refuses to share his supply of euphoria-inducing alcohol unless someone beats him in a drinking challenge, and other wonderfully contrived characters. Words only do an injustice to all the singularly eccentric hijinks this movie has a seemingly inexhaustible supply of.

It’s a film which cannot sit still. It revels in its jittery ADHD-powered energy. Characters and scenarios fractal nonstop from the central night-journey conceit of the movie. It’s jam-packed with twists and turns, and yet none of it ever feels overwhelming or belabored. Every scene thrums with a sort of freewheeling, charismatic electricity. It has the spontaneously playful feel of the entrancing daydream of a witty and lewd-minded child looking out a window.

The effect is hallucinatory and mesmerizing. You’ll be so in thrall with the rabid exuberance of the movie that it’ll take a while to adjust yourself to the bland dimensions of the real world after you leave the theater.

Playing @ the Japanese Film Festival @ the Museum of Fine Arts

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