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Original title: Toki o kakeru shôjo

D: Mamoru Hosoda / 98m

Cast: Riisa Naka, Takuya Ishida, Mitsutaka Itakura, Ayami Kakiuchi, Mitsuki Tanimura, Yuki Sekido, Sachie Hara, Utawaka Katsura, Midori Ando

Makoto (Naka) is a seventeen year old whose life consists of one lucky break after another: whether she oversleeps or not she still gets to school in the nick of time, she does well enough on her tests even though she doesn’t study too hard, and when she loses control of her bike heading downhill toward a train crossing, she always manages to regain control just before reaching the barrier. She has two male friends, Chiaki (Ishida) and Kosuke (Itakura), whom she plays baseball with after school, and a female friend, Kaho (Tanimura). But her various relationships undergo a variety of changes – some good, some bad – when an accident at school leaves her with the ability to leap back in time. At first she tries to help her friends in different ways, but her plans and ideas always seem to backfire, and she has to keep repeatedly going back to the same times and places to try and fix the things that she’s caused to happen. Soon Makoto learns that she has a finite number of time leaps available to her, and as they begin to run out, she has to double her efforts to ensure that everyone affected – including herself – is better off than when she started.

It’s heartening to discover that in The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, the girl is only interested in using her gift to help others. She finds that helping herself has adverse effects on others that she couldn’t have predicted, while she also finds she has only modest ambitions for herself. Instead she tries to bring Kosuke and Kaho together (an idea that suffers a multitude of setbacks), and attempts to find out more about her newfound gift. One of the nicest things about Satoko Okudera’s script, itself a semi-sequel to Yasutaka Tsutsui’s 1967 novel of the same name, is that it doesn’t preach about the perils of interfering in the lives of others, or how dangerous it might be to meddle with time. What we get instead is a sensitive portrait of teen anxiety in the face of unresolved romantic feelings, and a heartfelt treatise on the nature of individual responsibility. What hampers Makoto from getting things right is her inexperience and her naïvete; she can’t see the potential consequences of her actions, no matter how unselfish they might be.

Hosoda brings all this together in charming and winning fashion, and provides an often beautiful backdrop for the action. The backgrounds are often astonishing for their vibrancy and depth of colour, and many scenes have a simplicity of style and execution that is inspiring. However, while the characters are well drawn, certain aesthetic decisions conspire to make them look outlandish and bizarre. Makoto suffers the most, with one scene showing her tipping her head back with laughter and her mouth widening to the extent that it looks freakish (or something out of a horror movie). And Hosoda curiously elects to remove all facial features from characters when they are in the background. These elements, along with a sub-plot about a time traveller from the future and a particular painting Makoto’s aunt is restoring, distract from the overall effect, and prove unsettling and unrewarding in equal measure. But there is a fresh, joyous quality to the material that makes up for much of this, and there are plenty of subtle emotional layers to be savoured throughout the movie. The voice cast acquits itself well, and though Hosoda’s direction is uneven at times, this remains a delightful, if unspectacular, coming-of-age anime.

Rating: 7/10 – it’s easy to forget that there are other animation studios in Japan beside Studio Ghibli (here it’s Madhouse), but despite some obvious flaws, The Girl Who Leapt Through Time is a positive reminder; engaging and unpretentious, it’s a movie that treats its more serious themes with genuine integrity, while adding a lively sense of humour, all of which makes for an entertaining, if not entirely polished, viewing experience.