The Girl Who Leapt Through Time
Director: Mamoru Hosoda
Screenplay: Satoko Okudera
Based on a novel by: Yasutaka Tsutsui
Producers: Shinichirou Inoue, Jungo Maruta & Tsuguhiko Kadokawa
Starring: Riisa Naka, Takuya Ishida, Mitsutaka Itakura, Ayami Kakiuchi, Mitsuki Tanimura
Duration: 98 min
BBFC Certification 12A
The first film I watched from my Mamoru Hosoda directed double bill (available together on DVD/Blu-Ray) was The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, Hosoda's breakthrough anime which came in 2006 after a couple of TV/Direct-To-DVD Digimon movies and a One Piece feature length episode. It found great success in Japan critically and commercially and was fairly well received around the world (within fans of the genre at least).
The film tells the story of Makoto, an accident-prone tomboy whose best friends are two boys, Chiaki and Kousuke. After a disastrous day ending in what should have been her accidental death, she discovers that she has the ability to leap through time. She finds that she can use this new power to her advantage and starts to put her life on track and get exactly what she wants. Unfortunately, she discovers that living this selfish existence and playing with time and fate causes more problems than it's worth.
It all plays out like a sort of mish-mash of The Breakfast Club, Groundhog Day and Back To The Future, balancing sci-fi fantasy elements with large doses of teen coming of age drama. This blend isn't all that new to the world of anime, but seeing as I haven't watched much for a while and due to the fairly mature handling of the drama, it felt like a refreshing take on the time travel movie and worked very effectively for the most part.
What made the drama work for me were the characters. They felt well drawn (not literally), likeable and warm. I found myself enjoying their company and for the most part the film felt quite natural, despite the far fetched narrative elements. The actual look of the character designs wasn't anything special, they seemed quite basic (presumably the budget was quite low) especially from a distance when compared to the beautifully rendered backgrounds. There were a number of beautiful looking scenes though, especially the slow-motion sequences and the pastel-hued tinge to everything helped develop the warm and inviting atmosphere. The score, which borrows a lot of famous classical music is extremely effective too.
It's not a perfect film though. It does get very sentimental, especially towards the end, which the filmmakers pull off for the most part, but there are a handful of sappy scenes that threaten to spoil matters. There are also a few contrivances in the plot that are hard to swallow, especially in the final act where a twist is introduced that goes against the relative simplicity of what came before. Similarly, the 'auntie' character, who is strangely aware and unsurprised by the whole time leaping concept, is randomly convenient and seems out of place.
Most of the flaws tended to wash over me though and were more niggles than anything, so I still very much enjoyed The Girl Who Leapt Through Time and it got me most intrigued as to what Summer Wars had in store. I will say, it's not a film for everyone though. Those of you expecting a mind-bending action packed sci-fi adventure will be disappointed by the teenage drama taking centre stage, but if you're willing to accept the style it's most rewarding.
Director: Mamoru Hosoda
Screenplay: Mamoru Hosoda & Satoko Okudera
Producers: Takuya Itô, Yuichiro Sato, Nozomu Takahashi &
Starring: Ryunosuke Kamiki, Nanami Sakuraba, Mitsuki Tanimura, Sumiko Fuji, Ayumu Saito
Duration: 114 min
BBFC Certification 12A
Hosoda's latest film is Summer Wars, which again blends sci-fi concepts with 'realistic' human drama. It's not necessarily a retread of The Girl Who Leapt Through Time though. There's a larger scale this time for one, with the fantastical elements having harsher global implications as well as a dramatic core surrounding a large family rather than the simple romantic complications of a girl and her friends in the previous film.
Summer Wars begins with Kenji Koiso, an eleventh grade maths whizz, who volunteers to take a summer 'job' with the most popular girl in school, Natsuki Jinnouchi. Once he arrives at Natsuki's family home in the country, he discovers that he had been brought there to pose as her fiancee in order to please her grandmother, the clear matriarch of the family. In amongst this farcical plot-strand, Kenji is sent a mysterious code that he cracks, unwittingly hacking the social networking site Oz, which has grown to a level where almost every computerised system in the world relies on it. This opens the doors to a virus like no other that Kenji and the Jinnouchi family must fight to destroy whilst remaining true to their family honour.
Clearly the budget was increased for Hosoda's follow up to The Girl Who Leapt Through Time and it takes the beauty of that film and amplifies it, with more richly detailed backgrounds, stronger character designs and a boldly colourful, almost psychedelic look to the virtual world of Oz. The relative naturalism of the earlier film takes a hit here though due to this 'notch-raising'. The music is occasionally overblown too. With more dramatic subject matter this isn't necessarily a problem though and the action set pieces as the family's avatars try to fight off the ever growing virtual enemy are pretty spectacular. The last half an hour or so gets a little wobbly with more showdowns and climaxes than necessary as well as losing some points for originality with the anime-standard expanding mega-creature. The sappiness-levels rise here too, but it remains an exciting experience.
The film's messages of the importance of family ties and the mirroring of problems that different generations have to face are clear and it is quite heavy handed, especially towards the end, but I must admit it did get me quite emotional. It was pushing all my buttons though (I'm a sucker for watching characters acting selflessly, especially in animated form) and it does so quite manipulatively. Any subtlety that the film started with gets blown away by the epic finale.
I was always engrossed though and despite the layers of cheese, I still felt the film had strong, likeable characters that were fun to watch. There was a well balanced level of silliness to it all too which kept me smiling without ever veering off into slapstick territory. I'd say that Summer Wars has a wider appeal than The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, due to it's broader themes and increased excitement. I slightly preferred the earlier film as it felt a little fresher, but I'd still recommend both.
Summer Wars and a 2-disc boxset containing both films are out on DVD and Blu-Ray on 28th March in the UK, released by Manga Entertainment. I watched the Blu-Ray versions which looked and sounded excellent. The Summer Wars release contains interviews with the director and stars, which are quite dry and not amazingly insightful, but still a worthwhile addition. The Girl Who Leapt Through Time disc contains no special features. There is a choice between both the original Japanese audio and an English dub on both films.
Review by David Brook
Trailer (Summer Wars):