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  • Writer's pictureRobin Syversen


Updated: Jun 10, 2023

How Mamoru Hosoda Made an Anime that Transcends Time!

A girl standing in a busy Tokyo street, winds blowing around her. Inspired by the anime film «The Girl Who Leapt Through Time» by Mamoru Hosoda.
Fanart © Japanese Cinema Archives

Director: Mamoru Hosoda

Cast/Voices: Riisa Naka, Takuya Ishida, Mitsutaka Itakura, Ayami Kakiuchi, Mitsuki Tanimura

Related films: Summer Wars, Wolf Children, The Boy and The Beast, Mirai

Studio: Chizu

Year: 2006

Verdict: 5/6


Mamoru Hosoda Left Ghibli and Became an Anime Sensation

The Girl Who Leapt Through Time was the definitive international breakthrough for anime director Mamoru Hosoda. The story is loosely based on a classic Japanese sci-fi novel by Yasutaka Tsutsui and tells the story of a girl who can jump back and forth in time.

In the early 2000s, Hosoda's films gained considerable traction in the Japanese market. This led to him being hired by Studio Ghibli to direct Howl's Moving Castle. A few months later he «left» the project and never looked back.

«If I had to make Howl’s the way Ghibli wanted me to

make it, I think my career would have been over»

- Mamoru Hosoda | Polygon -

About this surprising turn of events, Hosoda later explained that Studio Ghibli, and Hayao Miyazaki in particular, had a certain way of doing things. Hosoda's vision for Howl's Moving Castle differed too much from that of Studio Ghibli, which led to his departure.

Since then, he has become one of the most acclaimed anime directors in the world. Films like Wolf Children (2012) and The Boy and The Beast (2015) were some of the most successful animes worldwide in the 2010s. In 2019, Hosoda's Mirai (2018) even got nominated for Best Animated Feature Film at the 91st Academy Awards.

A Plot that Transcends Time

In retrospect, the immediate success of The Girl Who Leapt Through Time is not so surprising. The sophisticated blend of science fiction and everyday melodrama makes the approach to time travel both accessible and relatable.

The story is about the young girl Makoto who suddenly realizes that she has the power to time leap. Before long, she has to deal with paradoxes of causality when alterations of the past affect her current school days.

The arch of suspense is based on the change of such simple matters as making a fool of herself in class, reacting to the romantic advances of her friend Chiaki, and finally, how to get the dinner she craves at home.

Producing The Girl Who Leapt Through Time

The visual expression of The Girl Who Leapt Through Time has that charming atmosphere of old-school 80’s anime while being very modern at the same time. Just like the storyline, the art design is minimalist but with much depth hidden in the details.

At first glance, the characters and settings might seem simple. Closer attention to the finer points and backgrounds reveals fantastic drawings and realistic idiosyncrasies from Japanese society.

«Much of the attraction lies in the uncanny recreation of an ambiance

that can only be found in Japanese suburban neighborhoods»

- JCA -

It is the small subtleties and the understated narrative that makes The Girl Who Leapt Through Time stand out. The unusual mood for such a topic matter also gives the film longevity in terms of re-watch-value. In between the low-key sci-fi adventure, there is always something new to discover and some deeper emotions to explore.

Between the Timelines

The concept of time is central to the story. Not only because of the time-leaping aspect but because the passing of time is an integral part of Japanese art. It is no coincidence that Makoto is repeatedly reminded of the unstoppable momentum of time.

The irreversible nature of time is a recurring topic in Japanese art through the ages. The past, future, and present are often thought of as one. The nonlinear way of understanding time underlines the importance of the only true reality, which is the present.

This ties in with how much weight the fleeting beauty of nature has in Japanese art. A linear view of time makes it hard to appreciate the present. Therefore, we can easily be distracted by the past and focus on the future when we ought to appreciate the here and now.

Even though Makoto has the ability to move back and forth in time, life still passes her by in every version of the moments she relives. She can change her actions, but not the churning of time.

An opportunity lost will never come back in the same form. Each time leap is another missed chance to appreciate the present. The incidents might seem identical, but every fleeting moment is as precious as every cherry blossom is beautiful. Stopping up to consider the present gives us a chance to reflect, to see the bigger picture.

The Leap from Mediocre Novel to Supreme Anime

The Girl Who Leapt Through Time was originally published as a novel in 1967. It has since been adapted into three live-action movies, three TV series, and manga before this anime version came about.

Only once in my life - before The Girl Who Leapt Through Time - did I read a novel that was inferior to the film (Interview with the Vampire). Tsutsui's novel makes two. When considering the bland source material, Hosoda's accomplishment seems even more impressive.

It might stem from poor translation to English, but the story in the book was rushed, the characters were underdeveloped, and the language was as uninspired. The only good thing about it was the concept and the setting of the story.

In the anime, the characters came to life by slowing the storytelling down. In fact, the anime stops about two-thirds into the book and ignores the heaviest sci-fi aspects of the story. This was definitely a wise choice since the drama and depth of characters are two core strengths of the anime.

If I was reviewing the book, I would probably roll a three on the dice for the creative idea and the rather accessible approach to the topic of time travel. It says something about a book, though, when the best compliment to give about it is that it was easy to understand.

Time Traveling Films | Parallels & Differences

Whether Hosoda was inspired by outside sources or just looked at previous versions of the story is difficult to assess. Ulrich Heinz from the University of East Anglia argues that the original story was the «first fully formed version of time travel as an exploration of self».

As such, The Girl Who Leapt Through Time sets itself apart from classic time-traveling films such as The Time Machine (1960), Back to the Future (1985), and Déjà Vu (2006). Instead, it appears more comparable to the coming-of-middle-age story in Groundhog Day (1993).

At times the atmosphere brings to mind films like Donnie Darko (2001) and The Butterfly Effect (2004). Also, the idea of reliving a certain point in time has been employed in a handful of sci-fi films such as Primer (2004), Source Code (2011), and Edge of Tomorrow (2014).

More Girls, more Leaping, more Anime, Please!

By now, most readers will have realized that yours truly is somewhat of a sci-fi otaku. Therefore, I also dream of a sequel to The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, in which, each time leap spins a different reality in motion.

In this first version, Makoto does 12 leaps that are all depicted in the same spatial reality. What if each of her 12 leaps set off 12 different trajectories of reality in 12 parallel universes? Would going back in time and changing things really matter?

This is, of course, sci-fi digressions. But if such a story could be depicted in a similar, casual, everyday manner as done in this film, every sci-fi aficionado’s wet dreams would be fulfilled. Time waits for no one! Let's get that The Girl Who Leapt Through Time sequel started already!

Final Verdict for The Girl Who Leapt Through Time

The Girl Who Leapt Through Time was an unexpected delight. It set in motion a new trajectory for anime films of the new millennium that felt fresh while at the same time holding on to the anime traditions of old.

Aside from the borrowed story, both design and atmosphere were breaking new ground. If leaping into the future, it would not be surprising to find The Girl Who Leapt Through Time noted as one of the great animes in history.

Akin to Akira, Ghost in the Shell, and more recently Metropolis and Paprika, The Girl Who Leapt Through Time marked a change in the anime market that cannot be undone.

Or can it ...


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