Friday, September 7, 2007

Review: The Girl Who Leapt Through Time

The Girl Who Leapt Through Time (時をかける少女 Toki o Kakeru Shōjo) is a movie that was released in Japan in May (or June, I've got two different dates on that) of 2006. Produced by Madhouse Studios, it is a sequel of sorts to Tsutsui Yasutaka's novel, Toki o Kakeru Shōjo (時をかける少女)(translation: The Little Girl Who Conquered Time). Clocking in at a little over an hour and a half, this isn't a long movie by any stretch, but it tells its story without dragging it out unnecessarily. And let's be honest, with the entire thing being about Time Travel, it'd be EASY to drag out the story. You've got to give kudos to the production team for knowing when to say enough is enough. As for what the story is about, Anime-Source has this as a synopsis:

When entering a chemistry room, Makoto slips and crushes a small item. From that point on, she was able to leap back in time on command. She uses her new abilities to fix mistakes, play cupid, and avoid undesirable situations. However, she doesn't realize that her selfish requests to develop her life hurt other lives around her. Also, there are some events in which you cannot change no matter how many times you re-live it.

Makoto endlessly tries to fix mistakes she makes, but in effect digs herself deeper and deeper in sacrificing the happiness of people around her.
While Wikipedia has this:
Makoto Konno, a girl attending high school in Tokyo's shitamachi [a district in the north-east section of Tokyo], gains the power to go back in time and re-do things (the time-leap) when she gets involved in an accident at a train crossing one day.

A little bewildered with her new powers at first, Makoto uses them extravagantly to avoid being tardy and to get perfect grades on tests. However, things begin to turn bad as she discovers how her actions can adversely affect others. Along the way,Makoto's aunt, Kazuko Yoshiyama, offers some advice to her niece, with the hint that she herself had done something similar in the past. (Kazuko is the protagonist of the novel, The Little Girl Who Conquered Time.)
Both work as a synopsis, but I prefer the Anime-Source version, and hope that that's what appears on the back of the DVD. But since this is a movie, posters, DVD covers and singletagline are what attracts attention. IMDB lists the translation for the tagline for this movie as: " There is a future that we can't wait for." Whether that's an accurate translation or not, I don't know. Truth be told, I'm somewhat surprised that they did not use the phrase "Time waits for no one." More on that later. As for the poster, they used this beautiful image of the main character leaping through the air. Oddly, it lacks the tagline listed for IMDB and has, what seems to me at least, is a lot of text for a movie poster. If you can't make it out in the image at the start of this review, the text says this:
17 years old Makoto Konno is a talented time leaper!

Makoto Konno ordinary 17 years old school girl.

Her everyday life is suddenly recomposed once she became a latest heroine who leaps across the 21st century.

As for DVD covers, I've found two. One seems to be very similar to the movie poster while the second is a somewhat more subdued cover, featuring the main characters standing in front of a railroad track, with one of the secondary characters walking away from her.

Personally, I like them both, as both offer a pertinent point of view concerning the movie, but again, more on that later.

First thing to discuss is the animation. Primarily, this is a traditionally drawn animated movie. I read the in-depth review on Anime-Source and it had issues with that choice, noting that this particular style would not go over well with those raised more or less on heavily CG-ed animation. Well, I'm older than that, growing up, a CG animated series would have been unheard of, and would have looked like TRON if it hadn't been unheard of. Don't believe me? Look at the movie Lawnmower Man. If that's not TRON on drugs filtered through Stephen King's mind, I don't know what is. Personally, I loved this particular style. Sometimes I think CG gives things too crisp of an edge. In the hands of the right animator, they can be beautiful. Of course, then sometimes we get character designs like in the upcoming Star Wars animated series. Unfortunately, (as noted in Anime-Source's review) where they did use CG is somewhat obvious. The disconnect between the hand-drawn characters and the CG backgrounds is telling and somewhat startling. It actually brings back memories of Who Framed Roger Rabbit? and its mixture of live-action and animation.

As usual, I'm skipping over the sound track of the movie. Speaking of myself, this particular Renaissance Man, though he can write, draw, take pictures and even program, well, he has no aptitude at all for music. Calling me tone deaf is being nice. What I do know is that the music fit. It flowed with the emotions of the storyline and did not interfere with the story. To me, being the atonal music ignoramus that I am, that's all that matters.

Plot-wise, this is an intriguing story. It's more about character development, and the characters learning something, than any type of defined, classical task-based fight. Not that this is a bad thing, in fact I was somewhat happy watching this character-based movie after the fact that the past few movies I've seen have been more along of the lines of the task-based fight.

Since the plot relates directly to the theme, I'll jump on over to that now. Yet, as I sit here trying to figure out exactly what to write, I realize that it's not quite as simple as I had initially thought. My initial thought was actually something along the lines of learning that messing with time only leads to more pain, and not regretting your choices. Yet, when I first wrote that out, I was re-reading and realized that it just did not fit the events of the movie. Ultimately though, I still think it's based on learning to not regret your choices, sprinkled with a bit of try to do your best for those around you.

Anyways, there are three major characters here, Makoto Konno (the main character), Kazuko Yoshiyama and Chiaki Mamiya. There's not a lot that can be said about these characters without delving into spoilers, but what I enjoyed most is the relationship between the three. We start out with them playing baseball, three friends utterly comfortable with one another. It's from this frame of reference that we learn everything we need to know about these characters. While we don't get into such mundane things as their hopes and dreams, we're treated to just how they relate to one another, especially how Makoto tries to get them to not change, and then how she tries to get them to all grow. It's handled brilliantly.

Ultimately though, the movie is best summed up by a phrase which is seen multiple times throughout the film. "Time waits for no one." Contained within that phrase is both a cynicism and a hopefulness which is embedded in the story of the film as well. Elbert Hubbard said, "Everything comes too late for those who only wait," and to me that seems to be what is the phrase is implying. Things happen to us, and we can't change them. No matter how much the idea appeals to us.

In the end, I liked this movie. A lot. The animation was beautiful, the characters were stunning, and it left us with questions that we have to ask. One or two of them, I have to wonder why we're left asking them, but I can only assume the production staff hopes to produce a sequel. I have to admit though, the part of me that loves Star Wars EU and ongoing comic books, hopes that they do.

The Girl Who Leapt Through Time gets a 3.8 out of 4.

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