The Girl Who Leapt Through Time is a sort of “re-working” of the original Japanese novel of the same name, which in itself is a classic in Japan.
The movie was released in 2006 and directed by the sensational Mamoru Hosoda, who would go on to make even more acclaimed hits inside and outside of Japan, including Summer Wars, Wolf Children and Mirai — and, of course, one of the greatest One Piece movies ever: Baron Omatsuri and the Secret Island. In my humble opinion, anyway.
When we consider how strong and striking Hosoda’s later films are, it’s no surprise that the best regarded and most adored of his works is not often said to be The Girl Who Leapt Through Time. But ever since it was one of my earliest anime movie experiences as a young teenager, to me The Girl Who Leapt Through Time has been a timeless classics for its themes, narrative, animation that holds up to this day and sci-fi elements mixed into a coming of age story.
The article contains spoilers.
A basic story with heavy implications
The story of the The Girl Who Leapt Through Time is so simple that it appeals to different ages, and is inclusive to audiences outside of Japan; it transcends national borders. The time-traveling narrative, the realistic depiction of youth and its very well-characterised protagonist are all aspects of stories we’ve come to know and love no matter our setting or surrounding.
Protagonist Makoto’s character captures the traits of what it means to be a young adult. We think we know better, we are selfish beyond belief, and we perceive the world to be centred around us.
But at the same time Makoto is endearing as a teenager we want to support and see develop. At the very beginning of the movie, it’s established that she has no particular talent, and to be even more broadly relatable, she has no plan or idea for her future aspirations or career.
The antics she gets away with once she understands she can travel though time are trivial and would be typical for a teenager granted with such an incredible power. It’s a very humorous watch until she starts to realise the consequences of it all — and the life lessons start to kick in. At the point where she comes to realise and accept her feelings when it’s too late, it makes her character not only sympathetic and human, but also encapsulates the overall message of the movie.
Encapsulating the journey of adolescence
In The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, Makoto gives up on holding onto her romantic opportunities and idealised future for the greater good of the world’s stability. She realises what she wants for the future, becomes responsible for her actions, and in the end, does the right thing despite it hurting her.
Even then, Makoto keeps her head held high — quite literally, with the final shot of the movie showing her watching the clouds in the sky with a confident smile, mirroring an earlier scene.
This is my first example of the many contrasting shots within The Girl Who Leapt Through Time. This scene forms a strong juxtaposition with a previous moment depicting her being in doubt — because now there is a visible hopefulness for her future as she looks forward to it.
While Makoto has the experience of time-leaping that differentiates herself from other teenagers, the story is still grounded as a coming of age tale where viewers can reflect on their own time as a young adult, when many of our choices may not have gone as we might have wanted them to, or some of our plans and wishes might have backfired on us.
Even if we were to be able to also control time, things are undoubtedly out of our control in our adolescence, and we have to understand and accept that. But Makoto represents that no matter what happens, there’s still something to look forward to down the line. And this is coming from a girl who may or may not ever get to see her loved one for potentially a decade or two later — or maybe not ever again. Her hopefulness in turn gives us hope despite how bittersweet of an ending the movie has.
Additionally, the relevance of Kazuko, Makoto’s aunt, is interesting. We learn the significance of her work in the museum and the reason why she takes such care of a particular painting — and she also acts as a callback to the original The Girl Who Leapt Through Time novel, as it is strongly hinted that she was the protagonist of it. It seems to be an unfortunate hereditary effect where their female family members fall in love with time travellers, huh?
This theme of hope is also relevant to the person of Makoto’s affection. Chiaki seems to come from a time where the world is on the brink of complete collapse. As the painting in Chiaki’s present time is ruined, his wish to simply observe a work of art that once was a source of peace during war gives us a better idea of Chiaki’s character as a whole; it also happens to be his source of hope too.
For a movie that feels so dark in regards to Chiaki’s origins — and Makoto’s late realisation of her wants — the movie is remarkably uplifting despite its tragic elements.
A gorgeously poignant tale
The directorial choices made in The Girl Who Leapt Through Time show how remarkable Mamoru Hosoda is. Moments of meaningful character development are emphasised greatly by the accompanying soundtrack, with the highlights being the vocals tracks, without a doubt.
Hanako Oku, a legendary female Japanese musician, wrote, composed and performed the two songs Kawaranai Mono and Garnet from The Girl Who Leapt Through Time. Both ended up being her most successful tracks ever, and those which propelled her into fame and notoriety.
The usage of these tracks is perfect in The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, with the poignant and emotional lyrics selling the bittersweet love story even further. This is especially the case with Kawaranai Mono, which is used at the crucial moment of Makoto’s final leap as she reminisces on past events with her two best friends — and precious moments with Chiaki.
Not only are the landscapes and locations in The Girl Who Leapt Through Time visually stunning, but they play a key role in delivering even more emotional punches. Take note, for example, of where Makoto was when she discovered she could time leap and was confessed to by Chiaki — and where they had their final parting. You guessed it, it’s the same location each time at the riverbank.
The whole movie takes place in just a single day, until their farewell at sunset. To make such a captivating tale in the space of a mere day is such a sight to behold, notice and appreciate.
One of the very best scenes, if not the best overall, is Makoto running to meet Chiaki before he disappears for good. The mere action of running is animated beautifully each time Makoto leaps, but its most impactful moment is with the silent desperation of Makoto running to meet Chiaki at the riverbank before the sun sets. This scene is not as immediately visually striking as her time leaping — and yet it has considerable emotional impact thanks to its unspoken, very human struggle of just barely being out of reach from your precious someone.
It is also a strong contrast to the same frames being used when she cries on the school’s balcony, because at this point, Makoto has accepted her feelings and is fuelled with the fire to correct her mistakes. The mere mention of running was previously hinted at by Kazuko, putting the thought into Makoto’s head of meeting someone who is running late.
Kazuko is both directly and indirectly the source of positive reinforcement for Makoto, and helps her realise what she wants for the future — be it her romantic feelings, or her career. Not only is she graceful and beautiful, she’s a brilliant parental figure! You can’t help but love her, and everyone in this movie, for that matter.
Makoto also states that she will “come running” towards Chiaki, who will be waiting for her in the future. This comes back to the subtle suggestion that Kazuko, who vaguely remembers her time travel lover, has always been stuck in limbo, hung up and unsure of how long she should be waiting around to see her beloved once again after so long.
While Makoto also has an unfortunate timing issue with Chiaki before they can really make their love blossom, Makoto does follow Kazuko’s advice and therefore avoids the mistake her aunt did so many years ago.
For a supporting character who gets very little screen time and dialogue, Kazuko definitely presents a memorable and tragic perspective on time travel in her own right as a contrast to Makoto’s confrontation of the situation. Their conclusions are in contrast to one another’s.
The Girl Who Leapt Through Time is a really simple tale of time travel and its consequences, but its genuine characters and very heartfelt dialogue exchanges are highly effective, memorable and inspirational.
The movie’s tagline of “time waits for no one” perfectly shows this: we have to make the best of what time we have.
While we have plenty to enjoy under Mamoru Hosoda’s name as is, his upcoming movie Belle looks as promising as we can expect from him. So what better time to gush about how perfect The Girl Who Leapt Through Time is than now?
What anime movies do you hold close to your heart? Let us know in the comments or via the usual social channels.
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