January 13, 2009
The Girl who Leapt through Time
If this were the typical Hollywood product--even getting past the image of Michael J. Fox that certainly springs to mind--you could probably picture the entire movie from the title alone. As a teen science fiction actioner, the plot practically writes itself.
1) A goofy mad scientist with a time machine chased by bumbling bad guys and shadowy government agents (often one and the same), and a geeky kid who unintentionally gets mixed up in everything yet manages to pull it together and save the world and get the cute girl.
2) Or cashing in on the Lord of the Rings and Narnia, a medieval romance with many "clever" anachronisms (A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court) and a couple of handsome knights and/or cute maidservants with suspiciously contemporary sensibilities.
And you'd be wrong. Director Mamoru Hosoda's adaption of this Japanese Y/A classic is a perfect example of plot as a necessary condition but character as the sufficient one. A legitimate criticism of the film, in fact, might be that the science fiction scaffolding is so sparse.
But that's because the story only takes the bare minimum of what it needs from the time-travel fantasy sub-genre to build a complex narrative that evolves out of the character of its protagonist, Makoto.
Makoto is a bit of a tom girl with a normal family and normal friends. But at the end of a particularly bad day when everything goes wrong, she trips over a gadget at the back of the high school science lab and wakes up to find she can travel backwards through time.
What does she do with this power? After stealing back a stolen dessert from her little sister's clutches, she sets out to make her bad day right. But for everything made "right," something goes "wrong," and she is soon consumed by the quest just to get things back to the way they were.
How she judges the morality of a relative gain for herself against a loss for someone else in each instance is ultimately what matters. We understand why it matters to her because the movie makes us care about what happens to these secondary characters.
A good measure of a good story is how compelling the secondary character are (without upstaging the protagonist). I'd like to see more of Makoto's super-cool "Aunt Witch," and more of the relationship between Kousuke and Kaho that Makoto engineers.
And, of course, find out whatever happens to Chiaki (it's literally all about art appreciation).
All those loose ends don't tie themselves up in nice little bows. To be sure, while it's easy to criticize "bad art" for emphasizing the happy ending and the moral of the story to be imparted, it is the tendency of much worse art to insist that there isn't any point.
There isn't a climactic "Ah ha!" moment or the false promise of a together-forever denouement at the end of The Girl who Leapt through Time. Instead, I came away feeling that I'd watched a trio of fast friends grow and mature in truly meaningful ways.
And that is the most powerful point of all.