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  • Robin Syversen

THE GIRL WHO LEAPT THROUGH TIME (2006)

Updated: Jun 15

Studio Ghibli reject made an anime film that transcends time!



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

Verdict: 5/6


Background

The Girl Who Leapt Through Time was the definitive international breakthrough for director Mamoru Hosoda. 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 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. Due to creative differences Hosoda «left» the project a few months later and never looked back.

Plot

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 Momoko 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.



Production & Design

The visual expression has that charming atmosphere of old school 80’s anime, while at the same time being highly modernized. Just like the story line, the character design is also minimalist.

At first glance the characters might seem simple. Closer attention to settings and backgrounds reveal fantastic drawings, ripe with details and picture-real idiosyncrasies from Japanese society.

It is the 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.

Between the lines

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, it is easy to be disturbed 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, it 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.


Parallels

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

Whether Hosoda was inspired from outside sources or just looked at previous versions of the story is difficult to assess. Ulrich Heinz from 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 travelling films such as The Time Machine (1960), Back to the Future and Déjà Vu. Instead, it appears more comparable to the coming-of-middle-age story in Groundhog Day.

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


More 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 Momoko does 12 leaps that are all depicted in the same spatial reality. What if each of her 12 leaps set of 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.

Conclusion

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 was breaking new ground. It might be a stretch though, to label it a classic, yet.

If leaping into the future however, 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, this film marked a change in the anime market that cannot be undone. Or can it ...


Sources

The Art(s) of Slow Cinema: Time in Japanese Art and Society

Ulrich Heinze: Time Travel Topoi in Japanese Manga

Lazy Boy Popcorn: The Girl who Leapt through Time: Retrospective Review and Analysis

Slap Happy Larry: The Girl who Leapt through Time

Unique Japan: The Japanese Concept of Ma

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