The foreground of Lu Over the Wall is all about kids overcoming their social and family limitations and “being themselves.” Lu the mermaid just wants to be liked by everyone in the way any little kid wants to be liked, while Kai and his bandmates are trying to find their place in a town that likely doesn’t have a place for them. It’s all told with a great deal of whimsy, cheer, and a decent helping of insanity that, for what’s largely a kids movie, feels more like Kemonozume than anything else in the Yuasa/Science Saru catalog.
Like, seriously, there’s a lot of biting, “eating,” and transformation/body horror going on in this thing. DOGFISH.
It’s all cute and well executed, and if you’re a certain age it may be really sticky, but what struck me the most was the way it presented fatherhood. Mind you, I’m not a father myself, and at this rate likely never will be, but I’m definitely at that age where I relate more to that “mentor” role, its importance, and how its easy to fail those who look up to you in such a way.
None of the fathers in Lu Over the Wall are bad men (I’m even willing to give Yuuho’s father a break in that department), but they’ve all failed their kids in some respect despite their best intentions. They’ve all faced some trauma, either past or present– genuine or perceived– and they’ve made decisions that have forced their children into this listless, out-of-place scenario. There would be no real coming of age story wrought with conflict and generational clashing if not for these failings, and despite their issues largely being background noise, I really do feel that the fathers are really at the heart of the story here.
Kai’s grandfather lost his mother at an early age to a mermaid “attack,” as when one of the mermaids was saving her from drowning, it accidentally bit her and transformed her, causing her to abandon her son to the safety of the dark depths. Because of this newfound fear of mermaids and the myths surrounding their love of music, he abandons his own musical talents and tries to push those sentiments on his son and Kai. That love for music also runs in their family, as both Kai’s dad and Kai himself are musicians, and the grandfather’s desire to not see anyone else “lost” to the mermaids causes him to pass on his resentments.
While it doesn’t fully take for either of his descendants, that resentment does color their lives. It’s his musical talents that leads to Kai’s father meeting and marrying the woman who would become his mother, but it’s his dad’s insistence on this “tradition” that causes their inevitable separation. Kai’s dad moves back to the small fishing village and gets a job with one of the fish processing plants. He’s abandoned not only his love for music, but also whatever relationship he had with Kai’s mother, all to fall in line with the world his father created for him. Kai’s father has essentially become a different man in order to be the man his father wants him to be, and that leads to his own failings in that role.
Kai wouldn’t be in this situation if not for his parents’ separation. He might still have the same anxiety over making his musical talents public if his parents stayed together in Tokyo, but that anxiety wouldn’t be compounded by the feeling of confinement that comes with living in a small town with little choice in terms of high schools and potential careers. While his dad pushes him to go to cram school, even that seems to be leading to some job involving the fishing industry. In making a decision that seemed like the best thing to do to preserve his sense of “family,” Kai’s father has robbed Kai of a lot of life choices– or at the very least made those choices drastic, dramatic ones that may rock their familial foundation even more when they’re made.
Essentially, both of Kai’s predecessors are desperate to maintain their family bonds, but in their desperation they’ve only caused more harm. That’s at the heart of that role as father/mentor/etc– knowing when the loosen your reel in order to maintain the strength of the line and to keep it from snapping. Being fishermen, they should know better, but it’s often hardest to see that sort of thing when it’s you experiencing it.
Yuuho’s family has a similar line of failure raining down the generations. Her grandfather is the local fat cat– the sort with political and financial power since he runs a lot of the local government and owns the town’s fish processing plant. He’s also a dreamer whose ambitions may be a bit too big for such a small town. He wants to draw in tourism with theme parks and the like, but his previous experiment in such things failed. His son, seeing how his father has squandered away family money on failed projects, wants to maintain the business as is, with no risks. It’s a logical response, but it’s largely due to his father’s hubris rather than simply sound business practices. He’s the sort who’d oppose any change simply to maintain the status quo at any cost, and it’s due to his father’s problems that he’s like that.
This manifests itself in the movie’s ultimate conflict. The mermaids are an affront to someone as tradition-oriented as Yuuho’s father, and his the driving force behind Lu and her father’s imprisonment that trigger’s the mermaid’s curse that nearly destroys the town. At first his anger is understandable, as he’s led to believe the mermaids may have killed Yuuho, but even when she’s found to be perfectly fine, his hatred for the mermaids persists, which nearly results in Lu and her father’s death.
If not for his insecurities as a father and as a leader in the town, none of the major conflict would go down, and in the end the bay would still be a safe place for the mermaids to exist alongside the townspeople. It’s Yuuho’s father’s failings that leads to the two groups never really experiencing that friendship. It’s understandable where he’s coming from, but damn, he ruined it for everyone.
Even Lu’s father, awesome he may be in his man-shark visage, has failed to really teach Lu the nature of humanity. He clearly wants to be friends with humans just as much as Lu, what with him donning a suit to head down to city hall and to teach guys how to prep fish, and it’s great that he’s instilled that love in his daughter, but given the history between their two sides, you’d think he would have taught Lu a little better. That’s just the “failing” of being a little too naive, and it’s all excusable because he’s a shark dude with a tiny little hat and weird faces on his body that talk while he only makes man shark noises.
Or maybe he did, and he’s totally perfect and rad like that, Lu’s just as stuck in a rut as Kai and his bandmates, and she’s trying to find her own place.
I’m sure that’s it.
Yeah, most of this is kind of in the background, but it’s what stood out to me the most as I watched the movie. Must mean I’m getting old, what with me paying more attention to the old dudes skirting around the edges rather than the crazy dancing fish girl.