At one time or another in their lives, everyone has probably made the fervent wish, ‘If only I could turn the clock back and do things differently…’ Makoto Konno – an ordinary high school girl – finds herself in exactly that situation when she suddenly acquires the ability to leap back through time. And her actions set in motion an extraordinary chain of events on what began as yet another ordinary school day: oversleeping; an errand to run for her mother after school; a test; practising baseball with her friends Kousuke and Chiaki…
‘Time waits for no one,’ the enigmatic message Makoto notices chalked on the science lab blackboard just before she undergoes her life-changing experience, will return to haunt her. For it’s only when chatting with her favourite aunt that Makoto begins to reflect on the possible outcomes of her time-leaping. Changing even one event in the past, however small, has consequences, and those unforeseen consequences may cause her the most unbearable heartache. As things spiral out of control, has she realized too late to prevent a tragedy occurring?
Although it deals with serious philosophical and metaphysical concepts, the film has plenty of light-hearted and amusing moments too. Makoto’s first concerns when she understands what an extraordinary ability she has acquired are to leap back in time and get excellent results on her school test! And then there’s the matter of saving the pudding which her sister Miyuki snaffled earlier…
But as the mystery of why – and how – Makoto has suddenly acquired this extraordinary ability begins to be revealed, all manner of unforeseen consequences have already been set in motion. The answer to the mystery comes from an unexpected source and suddenly lifts the story into a wider dimension as she encounters another time traveller with a very personal and poignant mission.
Although Makoto makes mistakes, it’s impossible not to be rooting for her by the end of the film. And even though her leaps take her back in time, the film shows her growing in maturity, going forward into adulthood, beginning to make decisions about what she wants to do in life and who she wants to be.
For a film about the nature of time and how it affects our lives, the timing of ‘The Girl Who Leapt Through Time’ is pretty near pitch-perfect. Each little incident and plot revelation occurs at just the right moment, increasing the tension to an almost unbearable level. Based on a novel by Yasataka Tsutsui from 1965 (which has already been made into several live action versions) ‘The Girl Who Leapt Through Time’ (‘Toki wa Kakeru Shoujo’) is in fact, something of a sequel and has already won several international awards for director Mamoru Hosoda (who came from, I understand, Studio Ghibli) and his talented team.
Visually, it’s a treat, from the depictions of the bustling everyday street scenes of Makoto’s home town to the breath-taking moments when Makoto makes her time-leaps. The quality of light that imbues each scene only adds to the realistic atmosphere, showing the changing times of day along the riverside as well as glorious cloudscapes. The atmosphere of high school in summertime is very convincingly evoked; you can almost smell the chalk dust and the chemical reek of the science labs. The character designs by Yoshiyuki Sadamoto (‘Neon Genesis Evangelion’ and ‘FLCL’) are distinctive and likeable, without being too detailed or realistic – a genuine strength, I think, in anime design.
Understated yet deceptively simple, the music score by Kiyoshi Yushida is just right too, heightening moments of tension or emotion: strains of Bach float through school as a student practises the piano and recur when the wheels of time are set in motion. Less is definitely more here; if only other directors could use music so sparingly yet so effectively (i.e. Not All The Time).
Thankfully, for the English dub, Bandai used the excellent Ocean Studios – and – even though I’m unable to compare the dub cast with the Japanese originals (I should mention here that the review disc I watched contained just the English dub, with no original Japanese version or subtitles) all the main actors give sympathetic performances. Newcomer to anime Emily Hirst, in particular, captures Makoto’s character perfectly. Chiaki, played by Andrew Francis (Dilandau in Escaflowne) and Kousuke, played by Alex Zahara (Lockon Stratos in upcoming ‘Gundam 00’) are also very convincing as Makoto’s two closest school friends.
A moving, involving film that tackles a serious science fictional theme lightly yet utterly compellingly, and brings it to life with exquisite animation.
One not to miss!