Top Ten Films Rating
(The) Girl Who Leapt Through Time (movie) Masterpiece

#1

Before 2006, Mamoru Hosoda was only on the radar of a select few who were not close-minded enough to dismiss the possibility that two short Digimon films and one One Piece could actually be worthwhile. (Although they'll be forgiven for not knowing that Hosoda used the pseudonym Katsuyo Hashimoto as he worked on multiple episodes.) I'll cover those at a later time, but as curious anime critics will attest to, those works are not only good, but excellent. They float with an air of whimsy and appreciation for the minutiae of everyday life, even if their plots go far above the fascinatingly trivial characteristics that are so perfectly captured in the better Ghibli films. It should then be no surprise that Hosoda himself is a Ghibli alumnus. The man was poised to ascend as a spiritual successor to Hayao Miyazaki, but some apparent studio politicking forced him from his duty's as director as Howl's Moving Castle (even after having storyboarded more than a third of the movie!). His exit, along with Yoshifumi Kondo's (Whisper of the Heart) tragic passing in 1998, has kept us from a Ghibli that seems to have been in a struggle to continue its legacy of excellence that Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata had established and maintained for decades.

But this is not to bog ourselves down as we look over our shoulder into a past that can and should have been better. Hosoda himself recognizes this (and will be explained later), and this virtue is what led him to create his critically-acclaimed piece that finally put him on the map: The Girl Who Leapt Through Time.

High school student Makoto Konno, after slogging through one of the worst days of her life -- waking up late, utterly failing a quiz, scalding herself when cooking and starting a fire, getting inadvertently hit as some boys goofily play around, and nearly (!) killing herself at a train crossing -- manages to survive and go through the past thanks to an accidental event that allows her to leap through time. From this contrivance Hosoda shows a montage of hilarious situations where Makoto milks this gift, such as getting to the pudding before her sister does, working in ten hours of karaoke in one day, or besting her friends in baseball. The prevailing strengths of the Digmon and One Piece are on full display as Hosoda effortlessly shows through understated character animation the comical stumbles and triumphs that Makoto encounters in her pursuit of, what she feels, wrongs that need to be righted. However, it is when the potential love lives and interests of and from two of her closest friends, Chiaki Mamiya and Kousuke Tsuda, where short-term plans are shelved. Amidst confessions and confusions, Makoto avoids and pushes other characters, but never gets it right through incidental complications she's created. Her situation becomes more serious as a boy she had switched places with in order to avoid the cooking burn and fire is now bullied by others; he eventually responds to even more radical degrees to his assailants. Even when Makoto time leaps to save one of her friends, another is still hurt, establishing the fact that things have gone wildly out of control with the young girl's self-indulgent meddling.

At last, as the final third of the film begins, the story turns a notch darker, back to the roots of the original novel by Yasutaka Tsutsui (Paprika). This pseudo-sequel to the aforementioned book (which has been adapted numerous times into live-action) does gradually grip its science-fiction trappings. After an hour of sharp comedy, showing just how important these small-scale and throwaway incidents are to teenagers, Hosoda and screenwriter Satoko Okudera throw in a morbid though retrospectively fittingly planned twist. It is a literally time-stopping event, one that reveals not only the origin for Makoto's sudden powers, but allusions to a larger history -- all beautifully edited and assisted by Kiyoshi Yoshida's (Kaiba, Shigurui) excellent musical score.

Undoubtedly this shift to a more dramatic tone and an ambitious, dark scope can be unsettling for viewers. As the film is from Makoto's perspective from start to finish, the transition is unexpectedly jarring. This can be seen and argued as a negative, though given Makoto's previous value on ridding herself of perceivable regrets while ignoring the consequences and big picture, it is less a drawback than a logical thematic development in a story of a girl who struggles with the consequences of her actions.

Still, even with an acceptance of how Hosoda leads into the third act, the climax itself obviously invites some well-considered criticism. A certain promise on the surface may fly in the face of logic, though isn't necessarily meant to be taken literally -- rather, it is an affirmation from one to the other about their relationship. (Though, of course, there is a rational explanation for literalists that satisfies a romantic's interpretation.) The film is one of growth by building upon all experiences -- as the song, "Garnet," for the movie's credits points out -- regardless if they were good or bad. All promises are not or even cannot be kept, but some are, and those can be the ones that truly matter for you and your loved ones. It's best not to be consumed by what could have been; instead, take your opportunities and run towards what can be achieved. This truth is the promise Makoto can make, and is what she learns and accepts by the film's end.

The recently released Summer Wars might well be a more tonally consistent work -- given the possibility that it may be a refinement of Hosoda's old ideas, I expect it to be -- yet that does not diminish the appeal and power of The Girl Who Leapt Through Time. Its optimism goes beyond placating the audience to become a very real message of coming to terms with the regrets and what-ifs of our lives to become better people. Mamoru Hosoda has plenty of years of greatness ahead of him, and I look forward to see where that ideal and passion takes him.

Mind Game (movie) Masterpiece

#4

(Review pending.)

Neon Genesis Evangelion: The End of Evangelion (movie) Excellent

#9

(Review pending.)

Only Yesterday (movie) Masterpiece

#7

(Review pending.)

Pale Cocoon (OAV) Masterpiece

#2

(Review pending.)

Porco Rosso (movie) Masterpiece

#5

(Review pending.)

Princess Mononoke (movie) Masterpiece

#6

(Review pending.)

Royal Space Force - The Wings of Honnêamise (movie) Masterpiece

#3

(Review pending.)

Summer Wars (movie) Excellent

#10

Instead of a clever attempt at a plot summary, I'll defer to ANN's:

“When timid eleventh-grader and math genius Kenji Koiso is asked by older student and secret crush Natsuki to come with her to her family’s Nagano home for a summer job, he agrees without hesitation. Natsuki’s family, the Jinnouchi clan, dates back to the Muromachi era, and they’ve all come together to celebrate the 90th birthday of the spunky matriarch of the family, Sakae. That’s when Kenji discovers his “summer job” is to pretend to be Natsuki’s fiancé and dance with her at the birthday celebration. As Kenji attempts to keep up with Natsuki’s act around her family, he receives a strange math problem on his cell phone which, being a math genius, he can’t resist solving. As it turns out, the solution to the mysterious equation causes a hijacking of the social networking site through which most of the world's social and business traffic flows.”

The subplots of the fiancé charade and Sakae's birthday aside, anyone familiar with the second of Mamoru Hosoda's two Digimon short films, Our War Game, will notice more than a passing resemblance to Summer Wars; this is compounded further by the look and developments (especially the climax nearly replicating the big twist and comeback!) of the two movies. Sadly, this does result in somewhat derivatives moments -- even though in Summer Wars they may better those in Our War Game -- and perhaps more crucially, misses the urgency of the Digimon film. The plot is more than enough for the concise forty minutes of Our War Game, but lacks the intricacies needed to be fully satisfying when it's extend to over one hundred.

Then again, I thought Paprika was one of Satoshi Kon's lesser works, before on a second re-watch came to feel that it's his best film. Who knows how I'll see my current misgivings of Summer Wars later on?

Regardless, that's where the negatives primarily end, as it's the characters and ideas that hook themselves in your mind. While I empathize far more with Makoto (The Girl Who Leapt Through Time), Kenji's position as an awkward but principled nerd is shown quite honestly; his latent proactive attitude is the result of his own personality and talents, rather than arbitrary plot mechanics. Satsuki, while not as well-defined as Makoto, actually behaves like a real teenage girl, carefully nuanced (considerate, selfish and brave are just a few adjectives that can be applied) and developed over the course of the story. Her family is even better, with the grandmother, Sakae, being on the short list of nominees for Best Character of All-Time in animated film. She's the very embodiment of charisma, order and understanding, and also represents the film's key themes (the importance of connections, comprehending the extent of one's abilities and acting on them, and the meshing of the traditional and contemporary) in vital ways: her two important conversations with Kenji about his relationship with Natsuki; the order and invigoration she instills in the seemingly countless important workers and public officials across Japan as they deal with the Oz Crisis, never mind her family; and her mindful awareness of the family's history (both of centuries past and the present generations) and how it should be acknowledged in the future (her relationship with Wabisuke is most representative of this, with the information doled out at the most appropriate times). The rest of the family is admirably diverse and free of stereotypes, most of them well-defined based on just a few lines of dialogue, their posture, attentiveness (or lack thereof) to the situation at hand, et cetera. They're portrayed so authentically that my mind started linking all sorts of associations to my own friends and family (both the good and the bad!). Some are attuned to modern technology, others less so or not at all; in fact, the one most involved is Kazuma, a reclusive thirteen-year-old male that provides the most immediate help to Kenji, and who has his own growing pains to deal with (before and during the movie). It's the entire cast’s personal tics that engages the viewer for the first hour, and also stir the viewers through the action-oriented second half.

Oh, yeah, and there's the visuals. As with the story, Hosoda borrows and refines many of the visual ideas from Our War Game, but with greater, more consistent success. Even though they never reach the sheer plain of pleasure of the sixth One Piece movie, Hosoda... well, screencaps do a far better job than words (no actual spoilers):

(Copy and paste the link for my review to see the pictures: http://theeasternstandard.blogspot.com/2010/03/summer-wars.html)

Very different than the subdued tones of The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, but very vibrant, well-composed work that gives a good sense of weight and motion. Wonderful stuff.

What's the most endearing aspect of the film, though, is one that should receive plenty of thought by viewers after the credits end. In fiction, the negative side effects of technological progress (environmental degradation, alienation amongst a sea of people, deepening issues of classism) are almost always given without much, if any reflection of the positives. Summer Wars adds this much-needed perspective where this greater ease of communication allows us an astounding amount of information in mere moments, the ability to connect with friends and family that we haven't seen or spoken to in years, and even save lives. The potential for cooperation and deep, transcultural relationships is there -- we are the ones that must reach for it. It's an optimistic point that we need reminding of more often.

Whisper of the Heart (movie) Masterpiece

#8

(Review pending.)