Japanese animated feature films have been brought to global audience through the likes of Hayao Miyazaki (Spirited Away) and Nozumu Sasaki ( Akira ). Subsequently, they have also raised the bar for animated productions in Japan and globally. Miyazaki, especially, has been seen as the ‘Godfather of Japanese animation’ and anything that doesn’t have the notorious Studio Ghibli trademark has found it tough to gain an audience outside the Asian continent. However, director Mamoru Hosada moves away from his previous works of Digimon: The Movie and One Piece: Baron Omatsuri and the Secret Island to create a refreshing and beautiful look into the concept of ‘time travel’ in a teenager’s world. The Girl Who Leapt Through Time adds much needed maturity into the general impression of Japanese animation without the need for gratuitous violence and nudity, as many others have attempted. The story, characters and art are all fantastic and created a film that can be enjoyed by all.
The story focuses on the life of 17 year old tomboyish girl, Makoto (Riisa Naka) in the Shitamachi area of Tokyo. She lives a life of teenage simplicity; playing baseball with her two male friends Chiaki (Takuya Ishida) and Kousuke (Mitsutaka Itakura), going to high school...etc. However, after the ‘worst day of her life’, she accidently gains the ability to ‘Time Leap’. With her new power, she sets a course of improving her own fortune and correcting personal setbacks. However, like all ‘time-travelling’ stories, she soon realises that changing the past has drastic and dramatic consequences on the future. GREAT SCOTT!!!
While of the plot, may come across as the typical Back to the Future ordeal, the story remains distinctive. Being set in a high-school environment, it is the changing attitudes and emotions within the 'atmosphere of youth' that really brings the story to life. The overall film changes its tone throughout the running time. The first act primarily focuses on slapstick-comedy, however we gradually explore the realms of life-and-death situations and a more philosophical and moral undertone. The film also incorporates the social issues of bullying and isolation which help to construct and facilitate the story and the characters, without being too distracting or too focused upon. However, the story isn’t perfect. The final act, which attempts to explain ‘everything’, is the weakest and is a bit rushed. But, while this may ruin the ending in many films, here the ending is bittersweet and satisfying.
Characters are key in any film and especially in animated cinema. Whilst many animated productions overlook this importance, portraying bland and uninspired characters, Mamorua Hosada has clearly taken care into his. Makoto is clumsy and cheeky, yet has an innocence to her. Her realisation of the damage her meddling is causing and her inability to accept her growing ‘romantic’ relationship with Chiaki, results in her character dramatically changing from her selfish self during the first act. She is a very likeable character, and this goes for all the personalities. You feel their pain, their love and their happiness which really creates an emotional attachment to them. The Japanese voice work is superb and never feels lacking or excessive in relation to the scenes. In comparison, the English voice work is sketchy as usual with any ‘Anime’, thus the Japanese audio track is the recommended one.
Japanese ‘Anime’ has recently gained a stereotypical look and traits to its productions. From the various TV shows of Death Note to Minime-ke , only the stories and characters truly create a sense of individualism within the genre. Whilst The Girl Who Leapt Through Time has similar styles to 'Anime', it is quite refreshing to see a film that relies on a effective narrative and the voice acting to portray its story. This doesn’t mean that the animation itself is average, in fact it is just fantastic and a joy to look at. With one of Studio Ghibli’s art directors, Nizo Yamamoto, the film looks amazing. The characters, though simply designed, are fluid and have a unique touch to them. But it’s the backgrounds that really stand out in the film. They’re unbelievably detailed and beautiful. From the long vistas of dusk to the interior of buildings they give character to the picture. Each scene seems like a well crafted piece of art.
Overall The Girl Who Leapt Through Time is a charming and beautiful film. The ‘time-travelling’ story line may be a cliché ridden genre, the light hearted, ‘coming of age’ drama gives a uniqueness to it all. The cutesy, childish nature of stereotypical Japanese animation has been swapped for a more mature story and art style. While the features of manga and ‘Anime’ are visible within the film; the over-the-top reactions and the ‘triangular’ noses, it still manages to feel distinctive and refreshing. This is helped by the brilliant voice acting and the truly magnificent animation and art. It has been made for a female audience, with its romantic, teenage girl ‘slice of life’ drama. However, it remains thoroughly enjoyable and heart-warming for the rest of the family. I strongly recommend it for those who have exhausted the Studio Ghibli collection.