Time travel movies can be a little challenging for filmmakers to execute. Most films usually spend a considerable amount of time trying to establish its groundwork, and by then, the whole time stream mumbo-jumbo becomes too much of a chore to follow that by the end of the movie, viewers don’t really care anymore. Some movies do succeed with such a premise but most of the time they do not.
Japanese anime have always been successful in bringing forth depth in story telling even with a simple style in animation. Recent anime series have been much more snazzy with much more detailed animation aided by CGI but it feels that scripting have taken a nose-dive to arguably attract more mainstream viewers. Storytelling should never be sacrificed for visuals. Well, consider this review as myself “time leaping” back to 2007 when I first saw director Mamoru Hosoda’s “The Girl Who Leapt Through Time” which became one of the more compelling anime films that I have ever seen. There is a reason why I’ve decided to finally review this delightful and emotional film as you will find out sometime next week.
This is not a sci-fi movie as the title would suggest but rather one borne of young romance, very human messages and how time itself waits for no one. The film is based on the novel by Yasutaka Tsutsui and it takes us to the life of an ordinary young girl named Makoto Konno (Riisa Naka) who enjoys her friendship with her friends Kousuke and Chiaki (Mitsukara Itakura and Takuya Ishida respectively). One day she makes a startling realization that she had gained the ability to time travel to the past. Makoto is a young girl who is simple and does not ask for much, she uses her ability to do silly stuff, pass her exams and even to avoid certain compromising questions by her friend Chiaki. Makoto is seemingly have fun with her frivolous time leaps, that is until she soon realizes that her powers are causing certain negative impact on the people around her and by the time she sets out to correct the effects of her time leaps, it may just be too late.
Director Hosoda and screenwriter Satoko Okudera have woven a delightful tale about time; time does not wait for anyone and time cannot stand still. The science of the time travels is used merely as a backdrop for the strong human drama where this film is immersed in. The screenplay has a ton of commentary on human fear, how we must make the most of life’s moments since it teaches us certain things, and the misuse of an ability and how anything must be used responsibly. “The Girl Who Leapt Through Time” is a film immersed in drama and even hints of existentialism. It is all about how us, as people should not be afraid to stand tall in order to confront the trials of life. It is all about losing the fear of disappointment and how we must grab at every opportunity; we must be open so that we can grow.
While the film merely gives hints as to how ‘time‘ works, it never relents in giving the viewer things that can truly boggle the mind. I am not sure, there is a powerful message about how men should not mess with something that they could not comprehend, and to do so may bring disaster. It doesn‘t matter if the motivations are pure, one cannot play God in a way life flows since humans are natural fallible beings. This message is brought forth by Makoto‘s character, as a young girl she does not know how to wield such power responsibly. Her reaction is that of a little girl, the direction was spot on in portraying her as someone who is kind, pure and may have the right motivations, but she should not be messing with such forces. There is also an underlying question as to what is moral or not, but the film does not spend too much time trying to dwell on this little message.
This is a tale of young romance and what one may call ‘a coming of age‘ after all. The direction and the script screams with absolute delight as young Makoto fumbles and toys with her new found powers. The film is funny, as Makoto does things what a normal girl would. The direction admirably paced the scenes as the story began to take life. It is all about learning, and once the film has you, it never lets go, as I was completely enthralled by the film up to its emotional twists and turns in the last act.
The animation work is simple and in many ways it resembles the look of a comic strip. The cell animation was smooth, fluid and charming; it fit the film’s premise. The backgrounds have the appearance of a painted surface with lush colors that express its mood. Accompanied by the superb soundtrack and cinematography, the film is such an enchanting experience. The voice acting is amazing (I‘d advise seeing this with the original Japanese language with subtitles) as it proved to be so filled with raw emotion. The characters are all endearing, Kousuke and Kaho gave a lot of meaning to the film’s premise while Chiaki and Yuri were the ones that helped define Makoto. I am certain that the novel had a lot of details as I saw several areas of potential, particularly with Makoto’s family and some details about "Auntie Witch" needed further development but hey, I was impressed with the way a 98 minute movie could go into such depths in its storytelling.
“The Girl Who Leapt Through Time” received a lot of accolades in Europe and Asia. It was the winner of the animation grand award in Sitges and won the animation of the year in Japan’s Academy awards. These are simple and little things that prove the film’s worth; it is a fine animated film worthy of Miyazaki and Kon themselves. Too bad this had a rather subtle U.S. release at the time. This is fine anime storytelling at its best, not for kids, and yet there is something so important that children should be taught from it. “The Girl Who Leapt Through Time” is absolutely magical…not because of the time travels but its very human sincerity.
Highest Possible Recommendation [4 ½ Out of 5 Stars]
Every bone in my body is telling me “Jonathan, this is a romance, it’s a time traveling romance filled with plot holes, love triangles, and more teenee gooy romance then you can handle.” Yes, it’s true; I’ve made somewhat of a reputation for myself amongst my family and friends for my hatred of these kinds of movies. You know, close nit group of friends (two guys, one girl), boy likes girl but doesn’t have the guts to tell her for fear of ruining their friendship, … more