By Daniel Barnes
*Opens Friday, May 11, at the Landmark Embarcadero in San Francisco and the Landmark California in Berkeley.
This rare stinker from animation importer GKIDS offers echoes of Studio Ghibli classics like My Neighbor Totoro and Ponyo, but contains little of the charm and none of the elegant character design of those films. Mopey teen Kai lives in a quiet Japanese harbor town where humans and merfolk once lived in harmony, at least until an “old curse” inspired the humans to construct a wall that supposedly rendered the sea creatures extinct. But when Kai gets recruited into joining a rock band, their song attracts the young and impetuous mermaid Lu, whose tail transforms into two wobbly legs whenever music plays. Lu risks detection by joining the band as lead singer, and she bonds with Kai over their missing mothers, but a misunderstanding eventually threatens to reignite the curse. There are a few lovely images and ideas, but for the most part, the character design is ghastly, the movements are herky-jerky and the style is annoyingly inconsistent. Those issues aren’t helped by the meandering story, the irritating voice performances or the horrendous song score.