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Makoto Konno, an average high schooler, discovers the ability to leap back in time. Using the power to better her otherwise mundanely unpredictable life, she soon finds out that toying with time can have some drastic effects on her life, her future, and most importantly, her friends.
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While I think about the antics I would participate in if I possessed that wonderfully convenient power to leap a few days back in time, there is no arguing that this film may be the most wholesome, lovable, and dramatic scenario to replay in my head. Known as Tokikake (“Toki wo Kakeru Shoujo” being its Japanese title), the original novel has seen a franchise of remakes, sequels and reinterpretations among Japanese entertainment. Tokikake has grown up as popular story, and with this most recent rendition, there seems to be no letting up on carrying this classic tale forwards in time.
Coming from the director of several spin-off Digimon movies, it’s surprising that such a leap in overall quality can be pulled off so well (although formerly working at Studio Ghibli). Nevertheless, Mamoru Hosoda enters the feature-length anime scene with impressive force. Developed by MADHOUSE, one of the most well-known anime studios, this film rises higher than most animes achieve and brings us back to earth with familiar and sensitive subject matter. Winning several film festival awards in Japan (including Japan Academy Prize for Animation of the Year), it deservedly ranks among the likes of Miyazaki and Shinkai as some of the most tear-jerking, visually awing, stunningly complete anime dramas of our generation.
And when she does, this film truly becomes something to watch. By the time Makoto discovers these newfound powers, we’ve already grown to know this ordinary girl. She and her friends are like classmates we see every day, or even our own friends. This film does so well at attaching its characters to us that we’re reacting to every situation they find themselves in. The genuineness and authenticity of these characters makes us forget that they’re drawings on a screen. Their personalities are so three-dimensional it almost becomes irrelevant. The likeability is already established by the first thirty minutes, if not by the first ten. Makoto especially, this kind of attachment pushes the emotional value of this film past many others of its kind.
The first hints towards the deeper, more sensitive tone that the film is inevitably take happens with a sudden bike incident at a railway crossing that interrupts the otherwise light-hearted nature of the first few sequences. Finding herself moments before a fateful accident, Makoto comes to her senses and seeks advice from her art-restoring aunt at the local museum. Hinting towards maybe the original novel’s protagonist, her aunt tells of her situation being common among girls of her age, and that she herself time leaps to escape especially lazy Sundays.
After her brush with a not-so-light-hearted encounter, Makoto soon rejoices back into her normal self, only with the convenient ability to go back in time and redo, relive, or avoid anything she pleases. Snatching the pudding cup before her sister, acing the pop quiz, and redoing teppanyaki night are only among her various time-travelling shenanigans. Leaping and tumbling back and forth, it’s never a bore watching Makoto fix her blunders throughout the day. Though careless with her leaps, it’s like watching your friend to parlour tricks at the table; not so much impressive tricks, but yet they still keep a smile on your face and maintain a good time. While Makoto’s parlour tricks are usually on her own whims, she begins to inadvertently effect much more than just her own life. Soon she discovers that maybe these time leaps do more harm than good, and the people around her might start feeling the effects.
By the time this film has established our connection with the characters, teased our senses with beautiful animation, and piqued our interest with Makoto’s various antics, we expect it to carry us as high as the feeling that this film provides. Contrary to that belief, the film descends—rather ascends—to a much different atmosphere once things start to unravel. Whatever the height at which we experience this film, we’re following Makoto and her friends the whole way through it. When time has stopped, and Makoto must face something she’s never felt before, we’re standing with her, waiting with her, and feeling what she’s feeling. And as soon as she takes that final leap of faith, or hope, or love, you get chills. Good movies make you do that, no matter the genre or subject.
It’s universally agreed that this is a modern anime masterpiece. More than that, it’s also an incredibly good film, regardless of the genre. Rarely do I ever see a film that connects with its characters so faithfully. Like Miyazaki and Shinkai, Hosada makes this a story about human spirit, understanding love, and growing up. These films are so similar in themes, yet I cannot help myself from awing at their work. Makoto, her friends, her family, and the world she lives in; we’re so in-tune with all of it that each huge step she takes has us holding our breath. And when she finally does leap, we don’t breathe again until we’re sure of where she lands.