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Wednesday, 24 August 2016

The Girl Who Leapt Through Time (2006).

Once again: No review or editorial tomorrow, we'll be back properly on Friday.

Also, here's The Boy and the Beast and Summer Wars.

The Girl Who Leapt Through Time

For the third in our Mamoru Hosoda series, let's take a look at The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, a film of his that I very almost forgot about. While it takes its name from the famous 1960s novel, it's actually not an adaptation, as I learned during a quick research spree - it's a loose sequel, with the main character's aunt being the protagonist of the novel. It's also, interestingly, written entirely by Satoko Okudera - who also co-wrote Summer Wars and Wolf Children and had at least passing involvement in The Boy and the Beast.

Set in more or less the modern day, The Girl Who Leapt Through Time follows Makoto, a girl enjoying the summer with her two friends, Kousuke and Chiaki. After accidentally falling onto a walnut shaped object in her school's science room, she discovers that she now has the ability to travel backwards through time. Under her aunt's (sometimes disapproving) eye, Makoto starts using her jumps to prevent awkward or undesirable situations from occurring, including foisting off a disastrous home economics lesson onto a classmate, reliving a karaoke session for hours, and avoiding a confession of love from Chiaki. 

One by one, though, her time leaps start to have horrible, unforeseen consequences, culminating in one accidentally leading to Kousuke and his new girlfriend dying. As time freezes around her, Makoto discovers the true nature of the time travel device: It was Chiaki's, and with Makoto having used all his leaps - apart from one final one, which he uses to save Kousuke - Chiaki can no longer return to his own time. Distraught, Makoto sets out to set things right.

The main cast.

Once again, I find that it's very difficult to summarise Hosoda's films, because they never settle into a status quo. While most films set up their goals early on and have most of the film be the pursuit of those, Hosoda's films (with the exception of Summer Wars) seem to have an ever-changing set of goals.

In general, though, The Girl Who Leapt Through Time is -- interesting. Full disclosure, I'm not a fan of the 'someone uses their special new power for harmlessly making their life better but it turns out that doing that was wrong' trope, so I was somewhat predisposed to dislike this film when that started happening, but it managed to win me over anyway.

What managed to win me over was a combination of the fact that Makoto's enthusiasm (and the mounting frustration of Chiaki and Kousuke as they wonder how she seems to have perfect foreknowledge of everything) is very endearing, and her motivations are all presented as being very understandable. The film never really expects us to cast a moral judgement on Makoto - instead, we're meant to see it for what it is: Outcomes that Makoto couldn't have foreseen, but which she can correct.

I mean, tbh, I would use time travel for petty stuff too.

Like Summer Wars, we have some pacing issues here, in that the first half hour is very, very slow. As in Summer Wars, the opening section is arguably necessary to set up the stakes and situation, and once Makoto starts to use her time travel abilities, the plot picks up quite sharply - but also, as in Summer Wars, I felt that once the plot did pick up pace, things like character motivations, stakes, world information, et cetera, were all being communicated more clearly to me, because I wasn't being bored out of my skull.

There's also the romance subplot between Makoto and Chiaki, which, while never the main focus, is pretty skillfully threaded throughout the film. It's nice, because Okudera and Hosoda never try to frame it as a great, sweeping romance - it's just two awkward, rough-around-the-edges teenagers who happen to fall in love. The mundanity of it is important, I think, because it would have been all too easy for the romance to be framed as a tragic, borderline-Byronoid love story for the ages, but we are consistently reminded both through the writing and animation that it's not, and that makes it a lot more relatable. 

It ends on a slightly bittersweet note, as Chiaki has to return to his own time, with Makoto leaving him with a promise that she'll preserve the painting her aunt (the protagonist of the novel) is restoring for him to see in the future, while Chiaki gives her a promise to see her in the future - although the meaning of that isn't entirely clear, since he's apparently from very far into the future.

The hug/whisper scene.

The later parts of that subplot actually give us some of the most clever parts of the film, interestingly. The time-freeze section, a fairly long sequence in which Makoto and Chiaki wander around Tokyo, frozen in time by Chiaki, is easily the best in the film, not just for animation, but also for scripting, and voice acting. 

In terms of animation, it's very pretty, and very cleverly done, as the characters weave their way around a maze formed from frozen crowds of people, simultaneously evoking both a bustling cityscape and nothing so much as hedges. 

In terms of scripting, though, it is one of the more dialogue-light but meaning rich part of the film. In a film where people very often ramble at a mile a minute, dialogue is reduced down to short sentences and statements, and the various emotions at play in the scene - fondness, sadness, and bitterness for Chiaki; affection, confusion, and fear for Makoto - are reduced down to very basic, subtle turns of scripting and voice-acting.

This film came out earlier than Summer Wars, and in a lot of ways, you can see in this sequence Hosoda and Okudera doing the same playing-around with silence and pauses that defines Summer Wars' script.

The other part of this subplot that is actually pretty clever is the idea that Chiaki came back to see a specific painting - one Makoto's aunt is restoring. We're told very little about Chiaki's future, except that there isn't any baseball or a lot of people gathered in one place, but we're told about the painting: Specifically, that it was painted during a time of war and famine, and that it makes people who look at it feel peaceful. That tidbit alone gives us a pretty clear view both of Chiaki's character and what his future is like.

Comparing this to the other two in this Hosoda series so far, I'd say that I probably enjoyed this one more than Summer Wars but less than The Boy and the Beast. Next week, we're going to muddy the waters slightly as we branch out from Hosoda's original works a little and instead look at his work on Digimon.

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