Director: Hosoda Mamoru
Screenplay: Okudera Satoko
Hosoda’s anime The Girl Who Leapt through Time (Toki o Kakeru Shōjo or short TokiKake) is a loose continuation of a 1967 novel by Tsutsui Yasutaka of the same title and tells the story of 17-year old tomboy schoolgirl Konno Makoto, who after an accident in the chemistry lab discovers that she is able to leap through time. In line with her initially somewhat immature and happy-go-lucky personality, Makoto uses her new ability to improve test grades and avoid her usual mishaps, but soon finds that it is not quite so easy to manipulate events and that self-serving choices have consequences for others. As a result, her close friendship with two classmates – the handsome, studious and kind Kousuke and the more nonchalant redhead Chiaki, who is portrayed as somewhat of a slacker – suddenly becomes more complicated.
Playing baseball together after school is no longer the only thing on the boys’ minds, something that Makoto, as the most clueless one of the trio, struggles to comprehend. “I thought maybe the three of us would always be together, Kousuke would tell us off for being late and you would tease me for not being able to catch the ball…” she says to Chiaki in a pivotal scene as Hosoda depicts her loss of carefreeness and disbelief very tangibly. In one moment she leans far back as she sits on Chiaki’s bike and stares at a lavender-tinted evening sky, the next she is gone, having scrambled back in time in teen angst of feelings.
Scenes like these make for rather uneven pacing in TokiKake. This is no criticism, but contributes to its wonderful unpredictability. The film opens languidly, with opening credits interrupting the spare visuals while instilling the torture of a hot and slow summer day. More quick-paced scenes soon follow as Makoto races down a fateful street and leaps to go back in time. However, the highlight of the film and its most lyrical moment come when time is frozen still – for a boldly unconventional, solid seven and a half minutes of actual screen time – as the medium of the moving image is turned into photographic stills, hauntingly underscored by Yoshida Kiyoshi’s piano music. TokiKake becomes a different film in that prolonged moment, much deeper, darker and more lonesome than Makoto’s guffawing, her ‘baka’ banter and klutzy tumbles would have had us expect. We realise that things can never quite be the same again – even if leaping back in time: Time waits for no one.
The film’s ending is left uncertain, in part because Hosoda never fully explains how time leaping actually works. The focus in TokiKake is on a single day, with fragments of it repeated again and again because of Makoto’s time-leaping. What is not clear is how the different versions of recurring time splinters coexist beyond the experience of the time-leaping individual, leaving the final scenes open to interpretation. This may frustrate viewers expecting a Hollywoodesque ending, but really makes the film much more satisfying: we are offered a carefully crafted and layered plot – as we have seen in many Western films from The Others to Inception – but it is not so fully polished that everything suddenly becomes meaningful and thus just a little bit too clever. Although connections are made between different sections of the film, they are often unexpected as there is little conclusive foreshadowing – only instances that might, just might, indirectly act as such. This unpretentiousness serves this gem of a film well.
Approximately 101 minutes. Much recommended in Japanese with English subtitles.
Awards: Animation of the Year (Japan Academy Prize), Animation of the Year (Tokyo International Anime Fair), Animation Grand Award (Mainichi Film Awards), among others.