Review: ‘The Girl Who Leapt Through Time’

A spunky teen tomboy gets bitten by the time-travel bug in "The Girl Who Leapt Through Time." Animated combo of laughs and life lessons charts its heroine's adventures in such an accessible and cheery way, it's easy to imagine her leaping into a Stateside remake. In limited release locally since July 14, pic has notched 150,000 admissions thus far. Limited offshore engagements are a possibility, with substantial ancillary action likely across the board.

A spunky teen tomboy gets bitten by the time-travel bug in “The Girl Who Leapt Through Time.” Animated combo of laughs and life lessons charts its heroine’s adventures in such an accessible and cheery way, it’s easy to imagine her leaping into a Stateside remake. In limited release locally since July 14, pic has notched 150,000 admissions thus far. Limited offshore engagements are a possibility, with substantial ancillary action likely across the board.

Filmed as live actioners in 1983 and 1997, Yasutaka Tsutsui’s short story is ideal source-material for animation. Given the long history of Japanime B.O. hits centered on clever young girls who encounter strange phenomena — the bulk of Hayao Miyazake’s catalog for example — it’s only surprising that this tale wasn’t adapted as animation sooner. Helmer Mamoru Hosoda’s second feature reps a significant stylistic and storytelling advancement on his 2000 debut, “Digimon: The Movie” (2000).

Although she tells viewers she’s really not that smart, it’s clear from the outset that young Makoto isn’t your average junior high schooler. A scatterbrain who’s always late for everything, she prefers playing baseball with boy buddies Chiaki and Kousuke to hanging out with the giggling girls watching from the sidelines.

Taking just the right amount of time to establish Mokoto as a likable and slightly kooky kid having a particularly accident-prone day, the pic flips the transformation switch while she’s alone in the school’s science lab. Investigating strange noises, she’s whisked away on a surreal “Alice in Wonderland”-like trip, and arrives back in the present with the power to jump backward in time.

The youngster whizzes back to pass the test she failed, then quickly becomes hooked on darting in and out of a day’s events and re-configuring things to her liking. Biggest laughs are generated when matters don’t work out the first time and multiple, rapid-fire revisits are required. Amusement is also upped by the fact her powers can only be activated by running and tumbling at a furious pace, no matter who or what’s in the way.

Before the novelty’s had the chance to wear out its welcome, the pic shifts gears nicely, with Mokoto realizing that all these amusements have fractured her friendships with Kousuke and Chiaki. Although it takes a few too many convolutions to set things right, the girl’s new understanding of loyalty and trust hit the right emotional chords and brings events to satisfying, upbeat conclusion.

Expressive characters designed by leading craftsman Yoshiyuki Sadamoto (“Neon Genesis Evangelion”) and detailed backgrounds are prominent plusses in a solid technical package.

The Girl Who Leapt Through Time

Japan

Production

A Tokikake Film Partners and Kadokawa Shoten Publishing production. (International Sales: Kadokawa Herald Pictures, Tokyo). Produced by Takashi Watanabe, Yuichiro Sato. Directed by Mamoru Hosoda. Screenplay, Satoko Okudera, based on the short story by Yasutaka Tsutsui.

Crew

Camera (color), Yoshihiro Tomita; editor, Shigeru Nishiyama; music, Kyoshi Yoshida; sound (Dolby digital), Yoshio Ohara; character designer, Yoshiyuki Sadamoto; animation directors, Hiroyuki Aoyama, Chikashi Kubota, Masashi Ishishama. Reviewed at Pusan Film Festival (Ani Asia), Oct. 14, 2006. Running time: 98 MIN. Voices: Riisa Naka, Takuya Ishida, Ayami Kakiuchi, Sachie Hara, Mitsutaka Itakuru.
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