Posts Tagged ‘Riisa Naka’

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.

Makoto, Chiaki and Kisuke ready themselves for class

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.

Makoto finally surrenders the defences of childhood

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)

Time Traveller — The Girl Who Leapt Through Time or Toki o kakeru shôjo (2010)

December 17, 2010 3 comments

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.

Riisa Naka and Akiyoshi Nakao

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.

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