"The Girl Who Leapt Through Time": Of Life, Fun and Time Travel
The Girl Who Leapt Through Time represents the first collaboration between director Mamoru Hosoda and the Japanese animation studio Madhouse (The second was 2009’s much-acclaimed Summer Wars). Drawing inspiration from the original novelized story by Yasutaka Tsutsui (Paprika), the film uses the concept of time travel as a hook but draws its greatest strength from its lighthearted and engaging story about growing up.
Makoto Konno is a normal high school girl who grew up with two boys, Chiaki and Kousuke, as close friends. After living through a day where nothing seems to go right, the worst part comes when the brakes on her bike give out and put her on a collision course with an oncoming train. Miraculously, Makoto emerges unscathed for a truly bizarre reason—somehow, she has gained the ability to go backward in time. Makoto becomes eager to use her new gift to relive fun times and “fix” problems in the past, but she soon learns that her power is not without limits.
This time travel element could reasonably define the film as science fiction, but fans need not fear the presence of a convoluted narrative or dense technospeak. If anything, it’s more of a character-driven fantasy. The movie’s concept is kept refreshingly simple: this story is about a teenager who gains the ability to relive her life on demand.
A duty of any movie is to entertain, and this the film accomplishes with ease as the lively Makoto uses her new talent to ace tests, marathon karaoke, eat her favorite desserts repeatedly, and much more. The trick to her ability, curiously enough, is momentum. This leads to several highly amusing cases of physical humor; the problem with needing a running start to leap through time is that you’re liable to run into things when you come out on the other side! In short, she takes every opportunity to goof off in a way that the rest of us only wish we could.
The film’s greatest triumph in my eyes, however, is its use of Makoto’s time-leaping as a representation of escapism. Makoto harbors a close friendship with the easygoing Chiaki and the mature Kousuke, and there’s a subtle love subplot that is quietly but effectively nurtured until the time is right in the film’s climax. Relevant to the escapist theme, Makoto is anxious about the fact that the three of them will eventually graduate school and likely end up going their separate ways. Anyone who’s recently lived through the teenage years or is experiencing them right now knows of the volatile emotions that most of us go through growing up. At the very least, we all at least know the uncertainty that comes with the knowing that your life will inevitably change—and that there are things about our old lives that will be left behind in the process.
Makoto is uncomfortable with this imminent reality and does what she can to avoid dealing with it. Even for her, however, the truth is no different. In time she begins using her abilities to avoid difficult conversations, to fix friendships, and to avoid every problem or negative experience that she comes across. She even uses it to avoid having to sort out certain romantic feelings, leading to understandable emotional angst. However she soon realizes that many of her trips to the past are altering succeeding events in ways that she never intended, and often for the worse. On top of all that, Makoto discovers a numbered tattoo on her arm that counts down every time she time leaps, leaving her with only limited opportunities to try and fix the damage that she’s caused to both her personal life and to others. This issue of unintended consequences comes to a head when someone is actually seriously hurt when she tries to solve a violent incident at school, and it really hits home when a certain tragedy strikes in the latter half of the film. Fortunately, the film does manage a conclusion that reflects its positive tone.
In lesser hands The Girl Who Leapt Through Time could have easily just been a goofy and fun movie, though it likely still would have been worth seeing for viewers of all ages. Yet to its credit it has more to offer than its concept. The film calls on us to confront change instead of fearing it, to deal with our lives as they are instead of fruitlessly wishing about what could have been, to enjoy living, and to realize what Makoto discovered: that you can’t see the great things that are right in front of you if you’re always looking behind.