Imagine if one day, while carrying papers into a chemistry classroom, you fall upon a walnut that grants you the ability to–literally–jump through time. This is the premise of The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, whose name is as accurate as can be. Based on a novel by Yasutaka Tsutsui (who also wrote the book Paprika was based on), the movie is one of the more generally well-regarded Japanese animes of recent memory.
Our girl who leaps through time is named Makoto Kanno, your average Japanese high school student. She’s your classic anime schoolgirl — slightly mischievous, idiosyncratically clueless, and almost too stereotypical for the part. Makoto is the kind of girl who wakes up late, burbles out the door in a cutely passive-aggressive fit, and speeds to school on her bike whilst completely oblivious to the hazards in her way. Funnily enough, this trope-like unawareness catalyzes the story.
After falling upon that time travel power-granting walnut, Makoto notices nothing — until her bike ride back home after school. Speeding mindlessly down a slope, she suddenly realizes there’s an oncoming train at the intersection ahead. She applies her breaks but they fail, and she crashes into the crossing gate, hurdles into the air, and… poof… lands back on her bed several hours in the past.
Now aware of her awesome powers, Makoto begins using them for… nothing awesome whatsoever. The first 40 minutes of the film feel like a regular slice-of-life anime, albeit with a small twist that empowers Makoto to do mundane things in a slightly less mundane manner. Instead of singing karaoke once, Makoto can travel back in time repeatedly and get ten sessions for the price of one! Time to play matchmaker? Well, if Makoto doesn’t at first succeed, she can just leap, leap again!
At this juncture, the film again creatively uses a trope as an inflection point in the plot. Makoto’s attempt at matchmaker sets into motion a worrying cascade of events and finally break the story out of a regular slice-of-life straitjacket. The story’s center of gravity is tilted heavily towards the back half of the film; most of what’s meaningful occurs later on, though the events in the first half do function as pieces in a broader puzzle.
Without giving anything away, The Girl Who Leapt Through Time closes on a deceptively simple and open note. It’s a piece that doesn’t provoke too much thought while you’re watching but, after it ends, prompts many questions and bouts of confusion. There’s multiple interpretations of the characters’ roles and fates floating around online, and the movie seems a bit like Inception in that sense. However, the film also contains an appreciable number of plot holes and shaky premises — for instance, why the hell does it take Makoto until a train intersection to discover that her bike’s brakes don’t work?
The Girl Who Leapt Through Time brings a unique concept to the table and dresses it up with high animation quality and a fitting soundtrack. It innovatively tiptoes through a forest full of slice-of-life anime stereotypes by using them to fuel plot movement. What stops it from being a complete masterpiece, though, is the cloud of confusion created from its plot’s assumptions, a cloud that dampens the film’s evocative potential.
The Girl Who Leapt Through Time (Japanese: 時をかける少女)–Japan. Directed by Mamoru Hosada. First released July 2006. Running time 1hr 38 min. Starring Riisa Naka, Takuya Ishida, Mitsutaka Itakura, Sachie Hara, and Mitsuki Tanimura.