Time Traveller — The Girl Who Leapt Through Time or Toki o kakeru shôjo (2010)
This is one of those reviews in which, appropriately enough, we have to travel around in time a little. It all starts back in November 1965 when the serialisation of a novel began. Later published as Toki o Kakeru Shōjo or The Girl Who Dashes Through Time, it was written by Yasutaka Tsutsui, a novelist who is probably one of the best known of Japan’s science fiction writers. The story has been republished in manga form, and made into a live television series, two television films and two feature films. There is also the wonderful anime version, The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, made in 2006.
The original story revolves around three high school students, Kazuko Yoshiyama, Kazuo Fukamachi and Gorō Asakura. Following a slight accident in the science lab, Kazuko inhales a lavender-scented fume and faints. When she awakes, she can make a few short hops in time.
Welcome to the third feature film, Time Traveller — The Girl Who Leapt Through Time or Toki o kakeru shôjo which is a formal sequel to the original story, starting with Kazuko Yoshiyama now a mother with a daughter, Akari Yoshiyama, about to celebrate her eighteenth birthday. The mother is convinced that she needs to be able to travel back in time to talk to Kazuo. To that end she has developed a liquid that, when drunk, enables a person to travel back to a specific moment. Unfortunately, she is distracted while crossing the road and knocked down. Unable to go herself, she sends her daughter.
There are several rules you always have to follow with time travel stories. The most important is that you cannot change the past. If you do, one of two things happens. You may generate alternative timelines or the future as you knew it ceases to exist — which, of course, may mean you cease to exist as in Hollywood’s Back to the Future series in which Marty McFly finds his own existence continuously threatened.
Well, as a quiet and thoughtful Japanese drama, we avoid the excesses of high-powered cars and major technology to accelerate people into the past. We start with a shared moment of happiness as young Akari celebrates her success in the university entrance examinations with her mother. This is a gently loving relationship portrayed by Riisa Naka as Akira and Narumi Yasuda as her mother. When dumped into a wintery 1974, Akira meets Ryota played by Akiyoshi Nakao, a young but enthusiastic film-maker who obviously wants to be as good as Ed Woods. More importantly she meets her mother as a young girl played by Anna Ishibashi and her father-to-be played by Munetaka Aoki.
The emerging relationships are allowed time to grow. Even though we know Akira must return to the future and leave Ryota behind, the accidental love becomes genuinely touching. This is heightened by some genuinely, laugh-out-loud moments, all held together by a sense of affection for the period. In some time travel films, there’s an element of satire or mockery in the portrayal of the past. Although this moment in Japanese culture is still relatively primitive — the plumbing in accommodation blocks is basic, so people do not wash as often as today — little is made of this. The director, Masaaki Taniguchi is careful not to be judgmental. To achieve this, the film avoids creating a strong sense of location. There are no obviously period cars or products placed ostentatiously in the background. The clothing is all relatively anonymous. We are expected to focus on the relationships and the central mystery of what happened to Kazuo Fukamachi who seems to have disappeared from all records.
Those of you who have seen one of the live-action or anime versions of the original story will understand how this sequel must end. Remember the past cannot change. This inevitability elevates the tragedy of the doomed romance, which is beautifully set up and, when it happened, there was not a dry eye in the cinema around me. This was due, in no small part, to the increasing sense of desperation in Akira. Riisa Naka may still be young, but this is a very mature performance, carrying the second half of the film through to the end. This takes nothing away from the rest of the cast, all of whom play their roles well. But without Naka’s sustained central performance, the film would have become mawkish and rather silly.
The cherry blossoms come every year. If you saw photographs of the trees down the path leading to the high school, you would not be able to tell one year from the next. This timelessness belies the ephemeral nature of humans and their emotions. Except, of course, no matter what may be lost from memory, the really important feelings will remain forever buried in the heart. Sometimes we may inexplicably feel sad but, equally, we may just feel good to be alive and look forward to tomorrow.
I thought this was a delightful film, carrying on the story beautifully from the anime which I found magnificent. If you can see this on a big screen, you should take the chance. There is something about sitting in a darkened space full of rapt people that beats slipping a disk into a DVD player and reaching for something to nibble.
For a review of the anime version, see The Girl Who Leapt Through Time.