Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: Makoto Konno is your everyday Japanese schoolgirl. She lives with two parents and a little sister, is a total klutz, and barely makes it to class on time. Today is a particularly rough day for Makoto: she fails a pop quiz, her cooking class ends with her food in flames, and she’s the unintended victim of two boys roughhousing around. She has a briefly surreal moment in the empty science room upon finding a weird walnut-shaped device, but otherwise, nothing has been going right for the poor girl. On the way home, the brakes on her bike suddenly stop working, causing her to slide off a hill and leap straight into a running train, killing her.
And then time rewinds itself to before her death. There, Makoto discovers that the device she interacted with earlier gave her the ability to leap back in time.
Like most adolescents, Makoto uses her ability to redo her crummy day before further abusing it to pursue hedonistic pleasures. Her actions are self-indulgent, jumping through time so she can repeatedly dine on her favorite foods, go on countless karaoke sessions, and avoid the tumultuous complications of youthful romance. The only one who understands her ploy is her Aunt Kazuko AKA “Auntie Witch,” a woman who time-leapt similarly in her youth (itself a direct reference to the novel the movie is based on) and now relays sagely advice. Like most mentors though, she often chooses to be cryptic with some of her wording, leaving Makoto to figure out any mess she makes on her own.
On the surface, The Girl Who Leapt Through Time sounds like a barebones Young Adult novel with all the familiar trademarks associated with it: teenage protagonist gains awesome powers and uses it for various reasons. It’s a tried-and-true formula and the movie never strays far from its woven path. But Director Mamoru Hosoda is an altogether different beast; his works blend the fantastical with mundane slice-of-life. The magical and unexplained are often tools to guide everyday characters and explore the ramification behind their circumstances. The Girl Who Leapt Through Time isn’t particularly original, but it’s a humble, entrancing movie that deeply looks into the heart of teenage drama between time leaps.
The irresponsible nature of Makoto’s actions and the gradual buildup that results in messing with the fabrics of time is expertly paced. So self-absorbed in her own world and problems, Makoto either fixes it for her own benefit or runs away with a quick rewind. Unfortunately this brings up severe consequences that negatively affect her classmates and best friends. The mood gradually swings from jovial fun to foreboding melancholy, firmly planting itself in bittersweet blues without ever feeling like a downer. The high school hijinks admittedly take a backseat in the end to focus on Makoto’s love life, but that seems to be a drawback from adapting the novel that presumably did something similar. Even so, it’s a focused element that got ample time to gather itself for the big conclusion.
The animation compliments the emotional highs and chaotic time shenanigans with calming, symbolic images. Several times the film silently pauses to let the characters sit on an important subject, and when the camera constantly focuses on blinking street lights and crowds walking so that when time stops, the world feels distant and surreal. Whenever Hosoda needs a visual representation of time, the screen goes cold and mechanic; a red digital clock on a black background or stark white with garishly colored cogs pepper the screen. This level of eerie simplicity is an artistic quirk Hosoda is known for and it emphasizes the otherworldly nature of time traveling.
The second half of the movie is considerably moodier, warping Makoto’s then simple viewpoint of time travel into a deep and fascinating subject on the consequences and inevitability of fate. Sure, you can change events, but for how long before it becomes a problem? Humans, as a whole, are frighteningly shortsighted. Time waits for no one, the movie makes a point of repeating, because even with her abilities, Makoto can only do so much. Her journey is a familiar one: she slowly understands the limits of her power and grows from the experience. It’s not just about a teenager who learns with great power comes great responsibility, but a reminder of the delicate nature of time and the important decisions one must make for their future. These are the scenes at which Mamoru Hosoda truly shines, using sci-fi conventions to meld the dramas of boring teenage issues and the ensuing impact they have.
If there is one fault to be found, it’s the extent of Makoto’s powers. She seems to have a degree of control over her abilities to leap back to a certain point in time. Sometimes she doesn’t end up where she wants to be, but it’s never as cumbersome as it could be. Does the time leap work based on what Makoto’s focused on? Does time alter itself for her? It’s never explained and while it doesn’t kill the plot, the time leap is often used as a convenience for the sake of plot as much as an obstacle Makoto has to overcome.
The Girl Who Leapt Through Time is another of FUNimation’s “Bandai rescue” titles, making it available again for those who missed Bandai’s 2008 DVD release or 2011 Blu-ray. Extras on this new Blu-ray/DVD combo set include movie commentary, a feature where you can watch the movie alongside the original storyboards, and commentary for the storyboards. Both commentaries are provided by the original creators of the film and the Japanese voice actors. Premiere Screening Event is a promotional event hosted by the director, the Japanese voice actors, and the original author of the novel. They largely gush about the movie and talk a little about themselves. Behind the Scenes at the Premiere Screening Event continues after the first by taking a look at the same folks off-stage. Direction File: A Talk with the Director is a thirty-four minute feature with director Mamoru Hosoda and Kou Furukawa. Certainly the most interesting extra, Hosoda details the cinematic techniques he used to compliment the film’s narrative. People who are into film making might appreciate this feature. Hanako Oku’s “Garnet” is the official music video of the movie. Theatrical Trailer, Promo Clips, and US trailer are various promotional trailers for the film.
The Girl Who Leapt Through Time is more than the sum of its parts: both intricate and whimsical; bittersweet and emotional. It analyzes the complexities of a teenage girl and her silly teenage problems to craft an honest coming-of-age tale. Even if some elements are been-there, done-that, it treats the subject matter with grace and produces a poignant film, one worth leaping for.