The Director and the Franchises
A look at Mr Hosoda’s work, both as key animator and director, prior to The Girl Who Leapt Through Time shows heavy involvement with titles such as Digimon, DragonBall, Sailor Moon, and Yu Yu Hakusho.
The Girl Who Leapt Through Time is itself part of a larger franchise, based on a 1967 novel Toki wo Kakeru Shōjo by Yasutaka Tsutsui that has had a number of incarnations over the decades. These include several live action adaptations of the original novel, plus a range of sequel adaptations. The most recent being a live action film in 2010.
In this case, the structure of the franchise did impose some limits on Mr Hosoda in that the theme of family that dominates his later work is barely present. Instead the core themes of The Girl Who Leapt Through Time are more oriented towards social harmony and personal responsibility.
One thing that’s worth calling out here is that The Girl Who Leapt Through Time seems to be the start of a productive partnership with Satoko Okudera as screenwriter. Ms Okudera is credited with the screenplay for this film, Summer Wars, and a co-credit with Mr Hosoda on Wolf Children.
The screenplay for The Girl Who Leapt Through Time is certainly a factor in the strength of the film.
The story of The Girl Who Leapt Through Time is relatively straight forward in terms of theme and structure: Makoto Konno acquires the ability to time jump when she physically jumps with enough momentum.
However although Makoto can change some events, the major threads are fairly fixed. So this leads to a Groundhog Day sort of effect where Makoto can fine tune or repeat events to her benefit.
Or to avoid conversations, particularly romantic ones, that she’s not ready to face yet.
However as the film wears on, Makoto becomes aware that improving her “luck” damages others, and this escalates to causing real harm.
This is where the key theme kicks in: coming of age, defined as taking responsibility for your actions and working to maintain social harmony. Naturally, Makoto makes a number of significant mistakes even as she’s trying to fix things, but to a large extent that’s part of growing up as well.
There’s also a time limit. Although it takes Makoto a while to realise, there’s a limit to the number of time jumps she can perform, and this leads to possibly her greatest mistake before the actual time traveller steps in to save her and her friends.
Wait, what? What actual time traveller?
Ok, this is possibly the only Sometimes More is More moment in The Girl Who Leapt Through Time: a key element of the original novel was a romance between Makoto’s aunt Kazuko Yoshiyama and a time traveller from the far future.
The Girl Who Leapt Through Time repeats this element with Chiaki, one of Makoto’s classmates, but doesn’t really disclose it until the final act. This wouldn’t surprise people familiar with the franchise and, to be fair, is partially signalled by the events leading up to Makoto acquiring the time leaping ability. However it is only partially signalled, and a case could be made to describe it as an Asspull to viewers unfamiliar with the franchise.
I’m willing to let it pass as it plays into the overall drama of the story well enough, and also helps drive Makoto’s coming of age to its logical conclusion.
Speaking of which, the conclusion is well realised with a balanced mix of sadness and hope. Some of the key scenes with Chiaki are beautifully framed and shot to emphasise the other-worldliness of what’s happening. Fittingly, the final scenes with Makoto and her friends are deliberately more mundane, more rooted in the now, emphasising Makoto’s hard-won maturity and purpose for the future.
Visually there are elements of The Girl Who Leapt Through Time that would be developed more extensively in Summer Wars, but I may write on that later.
Overall The Girl Who Leapt Through Time is a strong film, albeit not Mr Hosoda’s best.
The Madman DVD has a second disc with a bunch of extras. I didn’t look at the storyboards version of the film, but the Direction Profile piece is fascinating. This is a talk with Mr Hosoda discussing the rationale behind certain cuts or scenes in the film, and one that will especially appeal to fans of Sakuga. In particular he discusses the use of “do-po” cuts which re-enter a scene or setting from the same angle.
The discussion focussed on how this is often a cost-cutting mechanism, presumably because it enables re-use of the same backgrounds and simplifies camera usage, and one that Mr Hosoda has had to use at Toei Animation for that reason. In The Girl Who Leapt Through Time using “Do-po” cuts was a conscious choice to reinforce the visual sense of the time resets.
This was particularly true in the Karaoke scene, and also in the Y-junction scene. These are interesting choices to discuss, particularly because the former is where Makoto is using time leaps for fun, and the latter is where she is starting to make harder decisions.
Also of interest in the Y-junction scene is the deliberate 8 second pause between Kousuke leaving the three-way conversation and the two-way conversation starting up. There’s a lot more in this discussion, but I thoroughly recommend it to fans of how anime is put together, and I may well watch this first the next time I come to watch The Girl Who Leapt Through Time.
The Girl Who Leapt Through Time was the first time I took notice of Mamoru Hosoda as a director, and even if this was his only contribution he would still rank as a significant director in my opinion. His later works only add to this. The Girl Who Leapt Through Time is definitely a strong film that you should track down and watch if you haven’t already.
Speaking of which, the film is currently available to Australian viewers subbed and dubbed on AnimeLab for easy access. I watched the DVD subtitled version but here’s the Madman trailer for the dub, which sounds reasonably decent:
 Pun intended. I also have other reasons that I don’t want to talk about just yet.
 Increasingly one of my favourite anime directors currently working, with Mirai due next year.
 The original, not Crystal in particular Sailor Moon Sailor Stars and Sailor Moon Super S: The Movie.
 The literal translation for Toki wo Kakeru Shōjo according to Wikipedia is Time Soaring Girl.
 The protagonist of Time Traveller: The Girl Who Leapt Through Time would be the cousin of Makoto Konno in the anime film. Except that she wouldn’t exist. Time travel is complicated.
 Yes, that was intentional too.
 Who appears as a minor character, usually referred to as “Aunt Witch”, to provide emotional and moral guidance to Makoto.
 Although now having seen the film again I may decide to upgrade to BD. Yes, I think it’s that good.
 The “fork in the road” imagery at this point is not accidental.