The Girl Who Leapt Through Time is a surprising sweet natured fable. The rare piece of science fiction that also works as a slice of life and manages to slip in a nice, unobstrusive moral to boot. One doesn’t want to over sell. The nice thing about The Girl Who Leapt Through Time is that if feels somewhat delicate.
The Girl Who Leapt Through Time follows Makoto a young Japanese girl who is wiling away the last days of her high school year with her two platonic male friends. She develops the (initially and perhaps beneficially) unexplained ability to leap back short jots in time. Which she promptly puts to more or less selfish use. The first hour is little but graceful funny little vignettes in which Makato learns the implications of her power. The parellel time lines wittly choreographed to and punctuated by The Goldberg Variations.
The nice thing about The Girl Who Leapt Through Time is how unforced its narrative is. There are no shadowy government agents trying to exploit Makoto’s talent, no ticking clock, no manufactured crisis (though a few manage to manufacture themselves.) There’s nothing external everything is on Makoto. As in all the best sci-fi its simply about how ordinary people deal with the extraordinary. This is a movie that does not insist, even on its dread, which in a few sequences is very palpable.
The plotting, conversational pace and approach to character, and theme of the inexplicable intruding on the firmly established rhythms of day to day life suggest anime Richard Kelly more than anything else. Though as Kelly tends to do it perhaps takes the plot and its own assumptions about our suspensions of disbelief a step and a half too far. (There is also a sequence involving a train that can’t help but bring to mind the recent Source Code. Though this proves nothing so much as in a subgenre as small as Time Travel Sci Fi, a certain familial resemblance is inevitable. After all its not everyday that you come across a metaphor that works as narrative without drawing attention to itself.)
Though not spectacular and marred by some clumsy CGI augmentation, the animation is fluid, expressive and contains a sharp eye for detail. The actual leaps through time are portrayed with some startlingly burst of abstract animation that would make Jodorowsky put down the pipe.
The film does end with a whimper rather than a bang. Well that’s not really fair, but it chooses a wistful melancholy over any large scale resolution. And the main characters actions at the end are faintly inexplicable (This I’m willing to chalk up to cultural difference. Though it does seem a bit odd in that it embraces one half of the film’s message while leaving the other out in the cold). Still The Girl Who Leapt Through Time does so much right and I can’t really say that the ending is wrong. Mamoru Hosada is an intriguing director and in the wake of the untimely death of Satoshi Kon this is needed in anime (and animation in general) now more than ever. I can pay no higher compliment to The Girl Who Leapt Through Time than to note that his next film Summer Wars just leapt to the top of my queue.