Director: Mamoru Hosoda
Screenplay: Satoko Okudera
Based on a novel by Yasutaka Tsutsui
Voice Actors: Riisa Naka (Makoto Konno); Mitsutaka Itakura (Kousuke Tsuda); Takuya Ishida (Chiaki Mamiya); Ayami Kakiuchi (Yuri Hayakawa); Mitsuki Tanimura (Kaho Fujitani)
Viewed in Japanese with English subtitles
Mamoru Hosoda is a very popular director I've managed to neglected. Baring this film, I've not seen anything else, something I plan to rectify as The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, revisiting it, was great. I was cold to it originally but that's changed drastically as time has passed. Based on the novel of the same name by Yasutaka Tsutsui, who also wrote the novel the late Satoshi Kon adapted into Paprika (2006), the story follows a schoolgirl named Makoto Konno who finds herself able to travel back in time by leaping. Using it merely for petty reasons, like extend a karaoke session beyond its usual length or avoid an awkward situation, she finds as in any time travel story consequences to her actions and also emotional ones, a tomboy whose thoughtful male friend Kousuke Tsuda is ignoring the romantic interest of a female junior, and her other male friend Chiaki Mamiya showing clear feelings for her she is uncomfortable with.
The sci-fi plot is merely to emphasis the drama, that of Makoto realising her affections for another person and, while a cliché, of maturing as a person, when she spends most of the film trying to hide her emotions and thinking she can change everything with time leaping so she can play baseball with her friends all the time. It's not that different from other anime but the bar in terms of quality depicting this story is significantly higher than many. Moments, for the better, have the heightened absurd comedy of manners, but it's very naturalistic in a bright and optimistic way, mostly set in the early summer day with the feeling of playfulness imbued in the look of the environments and character designs by Yoshiyuki Sadamoto of Neon Genesis Evangelion (1995-6).
From Madhouse, it's not surprising the qualities there, and while the budget and time of a feature film helps, the work shown for what is a quiet story helps immensely. Body language is noticeable adding the personalities of the characters, when characters can be usually stood still in other anime doing exaggerated movements or only moving their mouths, and while I could be in danger of making a crass generalisation, how well depicted Makoto is as a protagonist is both a testament to her voice actor Riisa Naka and Hosoda's directorial work but the fact the script was written by a woman more than likely helps avoid the dire stereotypes of schoolgirls in other works. Even if she is close to the cliché of running to school late with toast in her mouth at the beginning, she is a perfect anchor who becomes more complicated as a the movie goes on. It's a small, personal drama that only spans a day or so, give or take the amount of time reversal that takes place, but when it's done this well in both content and presentation, it stands out significantly.
As school life is probably the greatest obsession for anime, you will encounter a lot of stories about high scholars which meld various genres together into hybrids. The Girl Who Leap Through Time, whilst a drama first, is very much the same, a montage going back to primitive man kicking off Makoto's brush with time manipulation and various trips to a space where lines of time code wrap around a white void like rings firmly reminding you that this is far from your conventional school drama. It does carve a niche for itself in the time travel sub genre through how subdued it is barring these moments, which is the best part of the film. Makoto is much more interested in going back in time to eat a pudding before her little sister does, and the real dangers of time travel is not paradoxes but her friends befalling the same fate that she starts the film with involving a faulty bicycle brake and the wounded hearts created when she finds you cannot manipulate people for a happy ending. The film is so subdued that when she raises this to her aunt Kazuko Yoshiyama, who is the original protagonist from the source novel, she shrugs it off to Makoto and tells her it's common for all schoolgirls around her age to time leap. The result of this is that the characters are more personable than in other anime, severe tonal shifts from comedy to drama in other works effortlessly put together here and the moments of melodrama at its saddest moments having more power to them.
Strangely when the science fiction element has to be explained - Chiaki revealed to be a time traveller from the future and a gadget that looks like a walnut being responsible for Makoto being able to time leap - I originally reacted badly to the twist and felt disappointed in the film. Despite the fact that it's intrinsic to the plot, the sci-fi for three thirds of its narrative is in the background making the plot twist a tonal shift, suddenly becoming esoteric when he and Makoto have an extended dialogue scene in a street where everyone else is stuck in time. Now it's far from an issue for me especially as it leads back to the drama. Unlike my younger self, I can accept overt science fiction suddenly poking its head into a romantic drama because so much anime, as well as manga, has a plasticity to genres allowed them to cross pollinate for what the creators feel is appropriate. It intertwines here in this school set story fully and ultimately leads to a last goodbye on a hill next to the river at dusk, the romantic ending you'd want for a drama.
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It stands out more for me now in how quiet and sweet the film is when many anime tend to be over heightened. I love my wacky or downright bizarre animated programming from Japan, but these more serene works when done right are gems to encounter. That this is also a science fiction story at the same time and can make the juxtaposition work adds to the quality. Altogether it causes me to ask why I've put off Mamoru Hosoda's work for all this time.