Konno Makoto is an ordinary high school girl in Tokyo . . .
Sound familiar? Well, it should – about half the anime/manga you’ll ever see in your life will start on a similar note. And there’s a fair chance that for many of them, the synopsis will continue as follows:
. . . until members of a top-secret, government-/privately-/US-/UN-/CIA-/[insert backer of your choice]-funded organisation reveal that she is actually a space-time witch/giant robot operator/lost princess of a faraway kingdom/magic chef and that she must fulfill her (usually long-prophesied) destiny of saving the world from aliens/meteors/zombies/flesh-eating bugs/pretty much anything that can destroy mankind – while living in an all-male dormitory crammed with bishounen soldiers/ninja/athletes/wizards with ugly “Western” names (e.g. Count Michele Telethonne Pyrite von Jingleheimer) who are prepared to kill each other in order to win her hand.
I’m pleased to report that Toki o Kakeru Shoujo isn’t one of them.
INTRODUCTION TO THE STORY (Note – This summary covers just the first part of the film. A complete synopsis is available on Memento.)
Konno Makoto is an ordinary high school girl in Tokyo. (Yes, that part was real enough.) She has an ordinary family, lives in an ordinary – albeit rather attractive – house, has two normal friends and attends an ordinary school where nothing extraordinary usually happens.
Nothing, that is, except on one particular day when our heroine has a run of extremely bad luck. After a surprise exam in her first class, a disastrous attempt at tempura-frying and an incident in which a fat bloke is sent flying straight at her, Makoto ends her day having to march a heavy stack of papers up to a science classroom. As she deposits her load on a table, she looks up at the chalkboard and notices something scribbled in a blank area next to some scientific equations:
Time waits for no one.
Makoto hears a noise in the adjoining lab and goes to investigate. There’s no one inside, but she notices a small object lying on the floor. As she bends over to pick it up, someone enters the room. Startled, Makoto trips and falls on her back – and suddenly her head is filled with strange visions of flying through space, water, Van Goghesque scenes and a weird futuristic landscape . . .
And then she’s back on the floor of the science lab. Later that day, Makoto pushes the incident to the back of her head as she enjoys an afternoon game of “baseball” (read: passing a ball around) with her friends Chiaki and Kousuke. Afterwards, she hops on to her bike and speeds off to deliver a bag of fruit to her aunt before going home.
As her bike rolls down a steep hill towards a level crossing, red lights start to flash and alarms go off: two trains are fast approaching. Makoto applies the brakes – only to find out that they’re not working. The bike hits the barrier and flips over, sending her straight into the path of one of the trains, and in the last few moments before impact she reflects on what she would have done differently had she known that she would die that day. The train slams into the bike, which instantly disintegrates into a shower of fragmented steel – and Makoto . . .
. . . opens her eyes to find her bike intact and a woman demanding an apology for crashing into her side. Makoto looks down the road and sees the level crossing barriers just starting to come down, then the trains thundering across – and wonders to herself: How?
The title of the film pretty much gives away the answer.
As for how Makoto deals with her newfound ability (along with the consequences thereof) – well, I’ll let you find that out for yourself. (^_^) But if you really, really need to know right away, click on the link I provided earlier; that will take you to a full summary.
Just promise me you’ll watch the movie anyway.
IMPRESSION – TECHNICAL AREAS
The film had some pretty amazing visuals – not quite as stunning as Shinkai’s recent work, but very impressive nonetheless. The backgrounds, for one, were some of the best I’ve seen. Rich in colour, detailing and shadow, they injected a healthy dose of realism and depth into the film without overwhelming either the characters or the events they were meant to support.
Regular visitors are probably aware of the importance I place on character design. The producers could’ve had Miyazaki at the helm, a joint KyoAni-Ghibli team in the studio, all of Japan’s big name seiyuu on the cast list and an Oscar-winning writer doing the screenplay – but if I didn’t like the way they drew even just one major character’s nose I’d have tossed the lot of them out the window. Thankfully, I didn’t have any problem with the way Toki wo Kakeru Shoujo‘s characters looked. The faces were well drawn, with eyes just the right size (neither slitty nor jumbo Kanon-style); the bodies were correctly proportioned; the hair . . . well, it was all rather plain, yet it worked well enough in this case. While not quite as fluid as in Shinkai’s Byousoku 5cm (another recent favourite of mine), the characters’ movements were graceful and very natural. There was a strong 2D aspect in the way the characters were rendered – a surprisingly limited use of shading to add depth, for example – but I won’t raise hell over that, since the excellent backgrounds and the way in which the various elements were layered more than makes up for the flattish look of the people in the film.
The seiyuu did a marvellous job, although their performance wasn’t quite flawless. (For example, Makoto’s voice charmed me in most scenes but annoyed the heck out of me in others.) The background music was excellent. I especially loved the score they used during the opening scenes, when Makoto was hurrying to school on her bike; it returns for the closing scenes. I also found the ending theme beautiful and wonderfully appropriate for the story, particularly in light of the way the film ended.
Here are some additional screenshots that highlight the technical excellence achieved by the makers of the film. First up is a scene where an art restorer works on an old painting. The woman’s hand is rather flat, which is true for all characters depicted in the film, although in combination with the textured surface of the painting the overall effect is quite dazzling.
Scenes showing Makoto’s house at different times during the day – early morning, morning, dusk, night – illustrate the animators’ use of lighting.
Great attention to detail in this depiction of a traffic light and its immediate surroundings.
Finally, some beautiful renderings of water.
IMPRESSION – STORY/OVERALL
For a sci-fi film, Toki o Kakeru Shoujo retained a distinctly slice-of-life feel all throughout. It’s a good sign. The makers managed to tell a compelling, emotionally engaging story that revolved around a staple theme of science fiction – time travel – without having to resort to epic fantasy. In the end, it wasn’t the time travelling that moved the film along, although it was certainly a key plot element; what hooked me and reeled me in is how Makoto dealt with issues that any Average Joe (or, in this case, Jane) can face in real life. In fact the biggest question for me was not what I would do if I were also given the power to travel through time, but how I would act in the knowledge that my decisions, however harmless they may seem at first, might have huge consequences for people other than myself. Stating the obvious? Hardly. It’s not something one normally keeps in mind. But it’s true all the same.
Still, it’s easy to overthink a fine film like this one. I hope the preceding paragraph didn’t give the impression that Toki o Kakeru Shoujo relies excessively on abstract philosophical concepts to provide substance, because that simply isn’t the case. The work of an artist who seeks to do no more than entertain is empty at worst, but the work of an artist who wants his audience to do nothing but think is as good as dead. Meaning without form is just as bad as form without meaning. This film has both and leans on neither. You don’t have to endlessly ponder the film’s “message” in order to appreciate it. Just sit back and watch, take in the humour (of which there’s a fair amount) along with the drama, digest the story at your own pace – and above all, don’t overanalyse anything. It’s a bit like reading a Terry Pratchett novel: there’s a lot of hard social commentary, but you can launch it straight out the door and simply enjoy the author’s incredibly funny writing; he’s so good that you’ll end up thinking without realising you’re doing it.
Final verdict: HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
Here are a couple of pictures showing the Toki o Kakeru Shoujo chirashi I bought in Singapore two months ago.