Over the last couple of months we’ve looked at every Studio Ghibli movie worth bothering with, but they never did have the monopoly on good animated films, and they certainly don’t now. Since the early 2000s in particular, several new directors and studios have had considerable success, and developed artistic styles that are verging on the brilliance of Miyazaki. Mamoru Hosoda is certainly a director whose success rate rivals Miyazaki. After a couple of films in long-running franchises that I’ll probably never bother with, he directed The Girl Who Leapt Through Time in 2006, Summer Wars in 2009, Wolf Children in 2012 and The Boy and the Beast in 2015. They are all brilliant, and I will be looking at them all on this site. I am yet to watch Mirai, his latest movie, but reports of that one are positive as well. So as a director he’s certainly reliable.
The Girl Who Leapt Through Time has a fascinating premise that will appeal to any sci-fi fan, but importantly there is enough human drama and real-life issues to keep the non-sf-fans interested. Makoto Konno (voiced by Emily Hirst in the English dub) is a high school student who could be described as a little tomboyish, spending her spare time playing baseball with her two best friends, Chiaki (Andrew Francis in the dub) and Kousuke (Alex Zahara). One day she is cycling down a steep hill when her brakes fail. She crashes through the train gates at the bottom of the hill and gets hit by the train and dies.
At this point you might be realising that this is an unusual film, because that’s basically the beginning of the story rather than the end. Makoto wakes up in the past, and gets to live that part of her life again. She has leapt through time. What’s more, she finds a way to do it again and again. Achieving her leaps is uncomfortably close to suicide, and at one point Makoto’s sister assumes that is what she is doing. It is played for laughs, but bubbling under the surface of this film are some troubling issues that affect teenagers. That becomes even more evident when Makoto starts abusing her ability to change seemingly insignificant moments in her life, with unexpected consequences. The more she tries to put things right, the worse they get. When she has a clumsy accident in a cookery class, she leaps back and changes it so another student gets the blame. As a consequence of that, he becomes the target of bullying, which eventually gets so extreme that he snaps and resorts to violence. Perhaps the only major failing of the movie is that Makoto doesn’t seem to be particularly remorseful about that or desperate to fix it, focussing instead on problems in her own life. It makes her a slightly difficult character to warm to in that moment, but it is good to see an anime film taking such an unflinching approach to bullying.
The problems in her own life amount to issues of the heart. She wants to maintain her friendship with Chiaki and Kousuke but it’s starting to get complicated. Her attempts to avoid the problem with one of them, and set the other up with another girl, threatens to lead to the most shocking tragedy. Makoto might have escaped death by train on that day, but somebody else is destined to take her place. What’s worse is that her abilities turn out to have an end point to them, when she finds mysterious numbers tattooed on her arm, counting down the number of leaps she has remaining, so if she can’t put things right soon she will reach a point where she can no longer change anything. Her mistaken assumption that “06” is “90” strains credulity a little. I’m all for those moments where the viewers are one step ahead of the characters in films, but it has to be done without making the lead character look too stupid.
There is another big twist in the tale, but I won’t spoil everything here, in case any readers haven’t seen this and are thinking of getting it. If that applies to you, what are you waiting for? It’s a great film, throught-provoking, dramatic, emotional, and the way the story is put together is a work of genius. If you’re paying attention, at the end of the film you will realise that the final sunset is the same one as you’ve seen before, with Makoto’s discovery of her abilities, and two important emotional moments in her life including the climax to the film, all taking place against the backdrop of the sun setting on the same day. It’s an intricate story. You won’t want to watch this once. You’ll want to enjoy it again and again.
Next time we’ll look at what could happen when technology goes wrong, in another fascinating film by Mamoru Hosoda, Summer Wars. RP