Reviewby Nick Creamer,
The Girl Who Leapt Through Time [Hosoda Collection]
Makoto is pretty happy with her life. She goes to school, she plays baseball with her friends Koichi and Kousuke, she makes plans for summer vacation. Sure, she's not the luckiest girl in the world, and maybe dealing with big decisions about her future is a little disconcerting, but things are pretty okay on the whole. But when Makoto discovers a strange device that enables her to leap back into the past, she realizes that she doesn't have to settle for “pretty okay.” Now Makoto is leaping as fast as she can, revising the past before the future can catch up with her.
Mamoru Hosoda, along with Makoto Shinkai, has the dubious honor of often being referred to as the “next Miyazaki.” There's no real meaning to this description, of course - it generally just means “an anime director well known for his widely-liked films.” In fact, Hosoda was outright kicked off the production of Howl's Moving Castle in the early stages of his career. But he quickly dusted himself off and returned at Madhouse with his first original anime film, The Girl Who Leapt Through Time. It carries many of the hallmarks that would come to define Hosoda's work. It's a personal story sprinkled with a hint of fantasy, where the fantastical elements generally just work to highlight the emotional journeys of its characters. It revels in the mundane and everyday, stuffed full of the small, offbeat moments that more ruthless editors might cut from a focused narrative.
Makoto is a teenager girl with two best friends, Koichi and Kousuke. The three of them spend easy days together in the leadup to vacation, laughing and throwing baseballs and riding bikes home in the summer heat. Makoto is a bit of a goofball - she wakes up late, she sets fires in cooking class, and she occasionally gets boys thrown at her after school (it makes sense in context). But her luck takes a darker turn when she realizes her bike brakes aren't working at top speed, flying downhill, staring straight at an approaching train. Makoto's would-be death is rewound by the film's conceit, as Makoto realizes she's suddenly gained the ability to leap through time. With a determined run and a tremendous jump, she can now skip backwards through the day, revising old failures, setting wrongs right, and making sure her sister doesn't eat her pudding. And so, with nary a thought to the consequences of her actions, Makoto begins happily editing her life into one of sunshine and smiles and infinite karaoke hours.
The film proceeds at the pace of Makoto's personality and experiences - though Koichi and Kousuke are important characters in their own right, this is very much Makoto's story. So it's a good thing that Makoto is such an eminently likable person. The Girl Who Leapt Through Time brings Makoto to life through wonderful character acting, great voice acting, and consistently excellent comedic timing. Makoto's leaps through time are always accompanied by embarrassing tumbles at the other end, and small beats of physical comedy and deadpan reactions abound. Makoto's life feels like fun from the start, and the addition of time travel only makes it that much more enjoyable.
Of course, no story about time travel ever lets its traveler get away scot-free, so eventually Makoto's constant revisions come back to haunt her. As the story continues, it becomes clear that Makoto's smaller adjustments are reflective of a larger inability to accept the passage of time. As more and more unchangeable events surround her, Makoto becomes entrenched further in the one moment she wants to preserve, fighting the onset of late adolescence with a relatable passion that eventually turns to tragedy.
The Girl Who Leapt Through Time is much closer to a character study than a conventional story. It's almost episodic in its structure; Makoto in her daily life, Makoto messing with time, Makoto trying to fix everything, Makoto cannot fix anything. The world she inhabits is marked by a series of consistent refrains that give the film its rhythm; the slap of a baseball mitt, the tumble after a new leap, the ringing of the approaching train. The dramatic highlights that exist operate more on the flow of a song than the dramatic beats of a plot, with each major time leap presenting one of the major peaks. That first terrifying run into the trains is a key example; the heavy rush of her racing down the slope, the relentless build of music, and the abrupt stop as her bike hits the barricade. Sequences like that recur throughout the film, offering a sense of tension and release that ties the audience firmly into Makoto's space.
But we also see The Girl Who Leapt Through Time's greatest failings in terms of a traditional narrative. As a series of small character moments and reflections on adolescence, the film shines - but when it moves into its second half, repeated scenes of romantic drama start to feel long in the tooth. Makoto is very slow to realize her own failings, and the film suffers for the fact that no one else is there to push her forward. Additionally, the film's true climax arrives about twenty minutes too early, followed by a segue into science fiction logic that, according to your own tolerance, could come across as either “misguided” or “film-breaking.” The time-leaping device in this film is never interesting as an actual sci-fi mechanic; it's just a narrative device to facilitate drama and themes. When the movie forgets that and actually starts to explain its own conceit, it suffers. The final act somewhat recovers from this unfortunate misstep, and I'm willing to forgive a film that's so strong in its actual priorities for such a weak turn, but it certainly bears mention.
I mentioned the character acting before, but The Girl Who Leapt Through Time's animation is lovely in general. There are certainly some ostentatious peaks, like a key moment when Makoto actually runs against the steady panning of a camera, but there are also plenty of smaller highlights, where vibrant character movement sells either a personality or a joke all by itself. The show's overall visual design is strong as well. There are a variety of gorgeous outdoor backgrounds and lovely colors, but the interior sets are probably the highlight; areas like the high school science lab and Makoto's own bedroom are brought to life with hundreds of tiny details, making her world feel truly lived-in. The music is generally quite subtle and actually felt a little too low in the mix at times - but for those big leap moments, the soundtrack is instrumental in creating a sense of true momentum. Whether it's rushing strings or panicking piano keys, the big songs all hit their mark, and the finale's vocal insert song makes for a tremendously cathartic moment.
The dub is fairly sturdy, on the whole. Makoto's performance is occasionally stiff, or the script doesn't support her, but she also has plenty of the offhand, casual intonations that you rarely see in dubs, which are very important for a film carried as much by a single character's personality as this one. That said, some of the more subtle beats of delivery are lost, like Makoto's near-credulous tone when discussing time travel with her aunt. The supporting performances are also solid, with Makoto's two male friends having particularly reliable deliveries.
Funimation's new release comes with some excellent extras, if you're into behind-the-scenes material. There's one commentary track featuring Hosoda and the three original lead voice actors, which offers plenty of insight into the voice acting process. It quickly becomes clear that Makoto's naturalistic performance in the film isn't far from the truth; Riisa Naka basically is Makoto, exhibiting all her mannerisms throughout the commentary. There's also a second commentary track featuring Hosoda, his assistant director, and one of his animation directors, which accompanies a run of the film played side-by-side with the original storyboards.
The special features don't stop there; the collection also includes a dedicated DVD of extra features, which include a pair of videos from the film's premiere, the music video for the insert song used in the climax, and another interview with Hosoda. He discusses how his habit of using repeated shots and sequences to build a rhythm actually initiated at Toei, where the technique saved money while still allowing the animators to express distinctive emotional sequences. That technique ended up providing a perfect mental shortcut for The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, as repeated camera angles made it much easier for the audience to parse Makoto traveling back and repeating the same moments. Between the commentary tracks, interview, and various other videos, these features offer a wealth of information on the film's creation.
Overall, in spite of the hiccups in its narrative structure, The Girl Who Leapt Through Time is highly recommendable. The film is charming from start to finish, with Makoto's personality, the winning relationship between the three leads, and the film's excellent character animation giving it a real sense of vitality throughout. There are laughs and gasps and lumps in the throat, as Makoto's adventure runs the full gamut of the adolescent experience. It's simply a lovely time.
Overall (dub) : B+
Overall (sub) : A-
Story : B+
Animation : A
Art : A-
Music : B+
+ Tells a consistently funny and engaging story of adolescence, full of standout scenes where art, music, and pacing come together wonderfully, lots of meaningful extras.
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