Dir: Mamoru Hosoda
In the (relatively limited) anime I have seen I have become used to its makers taking me to fantastical worlds, showing me things that would be be near impossible to replicate in live action. On hearing the title 'The Girl Who Leapt Through Time' you might expect Mamoru Hosoda's first self penned film (he worked on the Digimon movie before this) to fit the sci-fi mould that a great deal of anime seems to fall into, and to a degree it does, but only in concept.
The film is about a high school girl named Makoto, she's a pretty typical 17 year old; a little awkward, in love with one of her male friends, but unwilling to admit it, and wanting more than anything just to have fun. One day, completely by accident, Makoto discovers that she has the ability to leap back in time. To begin with she uses this power for frivolous things, but as time goes on she begins to see that her small changes are having big, and often very negative, effects.
As with Hosoda's subsequent Summer Wars, there are a lot of things going on in The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, and it mixes tones very freely. The first half of the film is largely comedic, as Makoto uses her abilities to extend her time at karaoke, avoid making a fool of herself at school, and eat the pudding that her little sister had previously stolen from her. These sequences also include a big helping of slapstick, as Makoto crashes into scenes repeatedly after her time leaps. As the film continues it becomes more dramatic, as Makoto's seemingly insignificant changes to the timeline begin to have serious effects on the people around her (few more so then her friend Chiaki, who is clearly in love with her). Without it feeling heavy handed or arbitrary, Hosoda introduces both real peril and real emotion into the film's last half hour.
Acting often goes unremarked on when it comes to animated films - something that continues to baffle me - but the performances here are excellent. Riisa Naka makes Makoto an absolutely believable character; fun loving and carefree at first glance, but filled with all the turbulent emotions and doubts that come with being a teenager. It's a bubbly and engaging piece of acting, one that makes the central pull of the story - the suggested unrequited triangle between Makoto and her two male friends Chiaki and Kosuke - feel genuine. The other vocal performances are also strong, with particularly nice work from Yuki Sekido as Makoto's aunt, who was able to time leap in her own youth.
The look of the film is quite plain for the most part (bar a few brief segments in which Makoto travels through time), but the relatively simple, unexaggerated, character design and realistic backgrounds serve the film well, putting it squarely in the real world rather than emphasising the film's sci-fi elements, which, for me, only served to allow the emotion to come through stronger and more honestly. The animation may not always be hugely complex, but it is a joy to watch. The time leap sequences especially strong, capturing the exuberance of Makoto and her joy at this ability, in this they become not just transitions but key character moments, to say nothing of the fact that they almost always provide the film with a laugh. There are also some extremely beautiful sequences in the film, none more so than when, with Makoto desperate to save her friend from danger, time stops abruptly. Here the film takes on a painterly beauty as the camera observes the small details of this frozen world. Overall, Mamoru Hosoda gives this film a strong look, but one that is unshowy, and draws you into the drama because of that.
While, obviously, I won't disclose details I will say that, having become so invested in the film and particularly in Makoto, I was anxious that Hosoda find a satisfying ending. He does, without becoming overly mushy the film comes to a genuinely moving close (I'm not ashamed to say I teared up a little), and resists the temptation to give us an ending that makes everything okay again.
I loved Hosoda's Summer Wars (review here), and so my hopes were high for this film, but still, The Girl Who Leapt Through Time exceeded my expectations. It comes highly recommended.
The HD picture is sparklingly good, rendering the animation with clean lines and smooth movement. The sound serves the film well, but the real world setting and lack of explosions means that there are only relatively trivial demands made on it. The subtitles are serviceable, and generally easy to read. A solid disc.