The Girl Who Leapt Through Time
Mamoru Hosoda is one of the most iconic, talented directors of his generation. He directs unique films with an eye for compositions and scenarios that reflect the interior conflicts and emotions of characters in his films and composes each work with its own rhythm, using cinematic methods to achieve specific goals. Hosoda makes films that connect with audiences, young and old, and works from the stable Studio Madhouse where he is one of their critical and commercial hot tickets. Meaning his continued presence is something to take for granted as long as he continues to create masterful work.
Hosoda began his career in animation in the early 90s, somehow managing to immediately snag a job as a key animator at Toei working on episodes of Dragon Ball Z and four films in the series between 1993 and 1998. He also worked as a key animator during this period on films in the Yu Yu Hakasho and Sailor Moon franchises, as well as on the classic anime series Revolutionary Girl Utena and the Leiji Matsumoto Studio Madhouse film adaptation of Galaxy Express 999: The Eternal Fantasy.
In the late 90s, Tamagatchi founders Akiyoshi Hongo, who had fused their three identities into one media icon for the presentation of this new venture, hired Hosoda to direct a pilot film for their new multimedia empire Digimon. From 1999 to 2001, he directed that film, Digimon Adventure, as well as the Episode 21 of the subsequent anime series, the short film, Our War Game!, and seven episodes of Digimon Adventure 02. His style was never workmanlike and always showed promise of developing into something promising from the very beginning. And most importantly, his approach was cinematic and always aimed at an adult audience in a theatrical setting. Despite the darkness of emotions he plumbed in these early works, they were accessible to all kinds of people and made him a sought after figure as a director for the strength of his visual style, his attention to detail, and just how many people his work could potentially reach (which would later turn out to be millions).
After this point, he directed a short commercial for Louis Vuitton in 2003, which he co-wrote and designed with the acclaimed Japanese artist of the Superflat Art movement Haruki Murakami, and called Superflat Monogram. True to the brand’s impression, the film is a work of high art and culture first and foremost whose preoccupations are with modern culture and life, and beauty. In 2004-2005, Hosoda directed an episode of One Piece before helming the franchise’s sixth film: One Piece: Baron O-Matsuri and the Secret Island.
Finally, in 2006, Studio Madhouse hired Hosoda full-time as one amongst their staple of directors for feature films and gave him his first chance at making a feature-length film of his own, not attached to a franchise, or with a pre-written script delivered to his desk by a Studio exec. He had complete creative freedom for the first time. And with this freedom, he decided to direct a science fiction picture based on a novel by the legendary Japanese writer Yasutaka Tsutsui (also the author of Paprika, which was simultaneously being adapted another masterful Madhouse director named Satoshi Kon).
The tale follows the day to day life of a young girl named Makoto Konno who is clumsy and riddled by bad luck. She is an awkward senior in high school who has thought little about what she wants to do with her life or how to get her grades in order to go to college. One day, in the chemistry class supply room after school, she finds an odd acorn lying on the ground as well as the shadow of a boy rummaging about the room. As she turns, she slips and falls. But not directly onto the floor. No, instead she falls through time, through different dimensions, and finally back into her own time and place and onto the ground. She has inadvertently leapt through time.
For much of the remainder of the film, Makoto uses her newfound ability to avoid accidents (including one which proves fatal to herself in her normal timestream), to spend longer periods at karaoke with her friends, to eat the best meal of the week at home on multiple occassions, and to generally have a good time. All the while, she explains the events to her Aunt, who is her closest confidant and friend, and the one she goes to for advice. She alerts Makoto to the possibility of her newfound ability having negative effects on people around her. Makoto refuses to acknowledge this possibility at the time, but eventually realizes that she has in fact made life rather difficult for a number of different people inadvertently.
However, every time she goes back to right a wrong, negative consequences seem to always occur and the situations she tries to get her and her friends out of worsen. What’s more, she eventually notices that a number has appeared on the back of her arm, which seems to count down the number of times she can use the time leap ability. As she races through time to prevent tragedy and to return her life back to normal, a subplot arises about her Aunt. She works as a restoration artist at a local museum in town and has spent the previous few months on a particularly difficult piece that was painted during a time of famine and war, and was laden with muck and minor surface damage. Only recently discovered, the painting’s creator is unknown.
Later, Makoto will find that the painting has some dire significance to a certain boy she has made friends with and who has arrived from the future to view it. The painting had been destroyed by the time he was born and only existed a short time after being found and displayed before again being destroyed in some cataclysmic event that killed off much of Earth’s population. The boy came to view the painting, to reflect upon its beauty as an experience to remember for the remainder of his life. But Makoto has accidentally used his device, the acorn, to time travel. He is now stuck in her time and has unwittingly alerted a past denizen of Earth to the existence of this future technology, meaning that he will most likely be found and decommissioned by his own future people, by time cops as it were.
The ending of the film is sublime, and thereby, something I do not wish to disclose here in the hopes that those who have not seen it will go and seek it out. It received very little in the way of promotion before being released in a limited theatrical run in Japan. However, it was so popular, and the few theaters reported such great numbers, that Madhouse extended both the length of its theatrical run and the number of theaters in which it played. They also entered the film into competition in as many film festivals they could and were rewarded as the film won Best Animation of the year time and again in both 2006 and 2007 at festivals like the Spaniard’s Sitges Film Festival, and Japan’s own Tokyo Anime Awards, the Japan Academy Prize, and the Mainichi Film Competition. And just like that, Studio Madhouse’s gamble on Mamoru Hosoda paid off, in a big way, and they had a new director on their hands for the long haul.
[Next up: Summer Wars]