The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, 時をかける少女 or Toki o kakeru shôjo (2006)
The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, 時をかける少女 or Toki o kakeru shôjo is the primary anime movie produced by Madhouse Studios which establishes an experience of time travel for a girl called Makoto and confirms the incentive for what will become the research programme to develop a time travel liquid. When the research is a success, it enables the time loop shown in the live action Time Traveller. The anime is based on the novel by Kasataka Tsutsui and directed by Mamoru Hosoda. In every way, it’s one of the most pleasing of time travel films, managing to blend insights into life as a teenager with an intelligent discussion of how you set about taking responsibility for your actions. Put another way, there comes a point when you have to stop playing children’s games and take life seriously.
Adolescence is one of those emotionally painful times in your life when you have no idea of the relative importance of anything. You have all these adults around, none of whom will give you a straight answer. Worse, you have your peers who are as likely to make stuff up as say anything meaningful. So how do you know how to take important decisions like deciding when to eat the jelly with your name on it in the fridge or agreeing to go out on a date for the first time?
Dates are funny things. They change the way you look at people. Until you set the status of the meeting, all social contact as friends is just part of growing up. You might throw pitches to each other on a baseball field or spend time talking about where to continue studies after school ends. Everything is routine. You think nothing is special. You also assume nothing will ever change, that you will always have the chance to throw pitches or talk about the future. Indeed, that thought gives you a sense of emotional security. You don’t want anything to change because that means having to confront the possibility that life won’t always be kind to you. So you will go out of your way to preserve the status quo. Even though, in your heart, you know you can’t hold back time, you fight for the now. Tomorrow, school will end, the holidays will start, and you will move on to university and the world of jobs. Until then, you want to live in the now and pray for it never to change.
There are three friends at school: Makoto Konno, Chiaki Mamiya (voiced by Takuya Ishida) and Kisuke Tsuda (voiced by Mitsutaka Itakura). For the record, Makoto is voiced by Riisa Naka who returns to play the daughter in the live action sequel. Their lives are tranquil. She’s still growing into her body and so can be a little unco-ordinated. Like Chiaki, she’s also perennially late for everything. Kisuke is the steady reliable one who organises the other two and gives them a sense of purpose. Kisuke would quite like to date but hesitates because this would break up the trio. Chiaki would like to date Makoto, but knows she’s not ready to take that big a step.
Everything would have carried on untroubled except Makoto is clumsy in a chemistry lab and breaks an oddly shaped ornament or small device. This gives her the ability literally to leap back through time. She has to run, straining every sinew and then jump without holding back. Then she can change her behaviour in the light of her known experiences. If you like, she gets the power to edit out her past mistakes. Except her wise aunt Kazuko Yoshiyama warns her that there are always consequences. Initially, Makoto is sceptical, seeing no-one apparently suffering from the changes she makes. But, slowly, a pattern emerges and she begins to understand that once you start playing with people’s lives, you can hurt them. In the end, she realises she also hurts herself. When she should just accept who she is and deal with reality, she hides behind her ability to edit the past. As a child, it’s too easy to avoid accountability. At the bitter-sweet end, she and Chiaki can see they could have had love, but the moment has passed. It’s all about what might have been as a “summer” romance if they had had the confidence of adults, leaving only a hope for tomorrow both know cannot be real.
When she finally meets the real time traveller whose device she accidentally broke, he expresses relief that the power fell into the hands of an idiot who did so little harm. The fear had been some bad person would cause major dislocations in the time line. On hearing this and realising what a sacrifice the time traveller has made despite her stupidity, she is motivated to make one last leap. This must be the one truly focussed jump with a clear objective in mind. It must represent her best effort to set everything right again. For once, this is a single-shot. If she fails then the meaning will have gone out of her life.
This is not a simple-minded romance nor is it a heavy-duty science fiction drama about time travel. It sits comfortably in the middle ground as a kind of romantic fantasy about growing up. Regardless of your prejudices, this is a mature film about the choices we make when changing from teens into adults. It’s touching without being overly sentimental. It’s not hard to understand why it has been recognised as one of the best animes of 2006, winning multiple awards. I unhesitatingly recommend it.
For a review of the live action sequel, see Time Traveller.
The other two anime films directed by Mamoru Hosoda are:
Summer Wars or Samā Wōzu or サマーウォーズ (2009)
The Wolf Children Ame and Yuki or Okami kodomo no ame to yuki (2012)