The Girl Who Leapt Through Time Review


You don’t need to be an anime connoisseur to appreciate Mamoru Hosoda’s 2006 film Toki o kakeru shôjo (or The Girl Who Leapt Through Time). Driven by a dense but consistently intriguing narrative, the film—like many other time-travel tales—touches on issues related to fate vs. free will and selfishness vs. sacrifice. Is the film’s protagonist using her seemingly unique abilities purposefully? Or are her actions causing unintended—and potentially irreversible—harm? For most sci-fi fans, this is familiar material, but the execution is strong enough to forgive both the copious amounts of high school melodrama and the vague sense of “been there, done that.”

The aforementioned protagonist is Makoto (voice of Riisa Naka), a plucky tomboy who’s admittedly not the brightest nor the most coordinated girl in her school. She’s a regular on the baseball diamond with her two best (male) friends, Chiaki (voice of Takuya Ishida) and Kousuke (Mitsutaka Itakura). The trio is virtually inseparable, though Makoto insists her feelings toward each boy are entirely platonic.

One day, Makoto is stumbling around the chemistry lab, when she slips and falls on something and experiences something intense, surreal, almost indescribable. The feeling lasts only for a few moments before it subsides and she moves on. But the next day, the brakes on Makoto’s bike fail at an incredibly inopportune moment. She careens wildly down a steep road toward an oncoming train and certain death. With impact just an instant away, the feeling returns and Makoto is suddenly halfway back up the hill and relatively unscathed.

“Leaping through time” is what Makoto’s oddly prescient aunt calls her startling new skill, and the young girl just loves it. She starts leaping to perform better on tests, avoid embarrassingly clumsy moments at school, and eat the last pudding before her sister beats her to it again. But when Chiaki confesses to liking her, Makoto leaps to avoid the conversation entirely. It’s situations like this, when people’s feelings get hung up in her leaping, that turn Makoto’s whole world upside down.

You never get the sense that The Girl Who Leapt Through Time is spinning its wheels, but all throughout the film’s first two thirds, the end of the road seems hazy. Much of this has to do with the film editing, which is delightfully chaotic, but the emphasis on the interpersonal relationships gives one the sense that Hosoda and company aren’t exactly swinging for the fences here. Will The Girl Who Leapt Through Time really only follow Makoto’s emotional quest to admit her feelings to the boy she totally thinks is cute and stuff? Thankfully, no, but it does feature prominently throughout the entire film, even the much juicier final third. It ultimately works because we care about Makoto, but there’s no denying the film is on much firmer ground once the time-travel machinations really kick into gear.

And boy, when this film gets going, it does so in a big way. The dramatic climax is a genuinely surprising switcheroo—the kind of giant swerve that derails a lot of films but manages to set The Girl Who Leapt Through Time on a much more satisfying path. Around every corner, another piece to this complex puzzle falls into place, which means The Girl Who Leapt Through Time is one of those rare sci-fi beasts whose conclusion feels satisfying when it comes to both character and story arcs.

As much as we like Makoto and want to see her grow, there are times when both the way she’s written and the way Riisa Naka voices her threaten our allegiance to her. She has, hands down, the most annoying laugh this side of Fran Drescher, and the amount of times she violently hits her head would be comical if it wasn’t just a smidge annoying. As far as her actions go, they aren’t so selfish that we can’t sympathize with her, but they’re certainly a little childish.

The Girl Who Leapt Through Time doesn’t enchant the same way the very best Miyazaki films do, but it’s certainly a film worth watching. The animation itself is simple, but Hosoda (best known for, of all things, Digimon) gets creative when appropriate. He also makes terrific use of sound (rhythmic grasshoppers frequently threaten to lull you to sleep before you’re jolted awake by the sound of another Makodo leap). If you’re a fan of movies with time travel, this is certainly one for you. It’s no The Terminator or Back to the Future, obviously, but it’s a perfectly respectable entry in the sub-genre.

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