The Time Traveller: The Girl Who Leapt Through Time (Toki O Kakeru Shojo)
Director – Masaaki Tanaguchi, Screenplay – Tomoe Kanno, Based on the Novel by Yasutaka Tsutsui, Producers – Jiro Abe, Masatoshi Fujimoto, Masaki Kai, Susaku Matsuoka & Yoshishiro Suzuki, Photography – Shogo Ueno, Music – Tatsuya Murayama, Special Effects Supervisor – Kazuyori Kosaka, Production Design – Aiko Funaki. Production Company – Aniplex/Epic Records/Style Jam/Voice & Heart
Riisa Naka (Akari Yoshiyama), Akinobu Nakao (Ryouta Mizorogi), Narumi Yasuda (Kazuko Yoshiyama), Kanji Ishimaru (Kazuo Fukumashi), Masanobu Katsumura (Goro), Anna Ishibashi (Kazuko 1974), kMunetaka Aoki (Gotetsu), Shota Chiyo (Goro 1974), Mayu Kitaki (Ichise Natsuko)
Akari Yoshiyama is an average Japanese schoolgirl who is about to turn eighteen. She lives with her mother Kazuko, a science teacher at her high school, and has never known her father. Her mother is then hit by a car while crossing the street and falls into a coma. She manages to tell Akari that she needs to meet Kazuo Fukumashi back in April of 1972. Akari finds some of the experimental serum that her mother has created that allows time travel. She takes it but is accidentally transported back in time to February of 1974 instead of 1972. With only a photo to go by, Akari sets out to find the mysterious Kazuo who it increasingly appears may be a time traveller. During the course of events, she is aided by and becomes attracted to student Ryouta Mizogori, an aspiring amateur filmmaker.
This is a live-action film based on the young adult’s novel The Girl Who Leapt Through Time (1965) by Yasutaka Tsutsui. This has been filmed a number of times before, including as two tv series The Time Traveller (1972) and The Little Girl Who Conquered Time (1994) and as the previous live-action films The Little Girl Who Conquered Time (1983), The Little Girl Who Conquered Time (1997) and most recently, only a couple of years before this version, as the anime The Girl Who Leapt Through Time (2006), which enjoyed reasonable acclaim. The connection between the two is emphasised by the presence of Riisa Naka who voiced the role of the heroine in the anime and plays the heroine in live-action here.
If I had not read up on The Time Traveller before watching it, I don’t know if I would have ever guessed that it was a sequel to The Girl Who Leapt Through Time. I must preface this by saying I am basing this on having seen the anime, not read the book or watched any of the other films and tv series (although the Wikipedia plot description of the novel would seem to indicate that the book and anime film are very similar). The anime seems much more playful in its tone, willing to have fun with the time travel aspect. This version simply involves a journey into the past and then the mundane quest of the heroine as she tries to find the mystery man in the photo with her mother. Even the methods of time travel are different – the heroine in the book and anime was able to travel by mental will, while the heroine here has to take one serum to get her there and another to get back and has no freedom to leap about through time at will. Other than the idea of a teenage heroine who can travel through time, it is not until the end of this film that we get anything that resembles the plot of the original wherein we learn that the mother is the heroine from the original story and the mystery man is the boy from the future she fell for but that her memories of him have been erased. Even then, none of the characters have the same names.
The Time Traveller did not receive as much acclaim as The Girl Who Leapt Through Time and the reason is simple – it is a fairly mediocre film. Time travel is one of the most exciting genres in science-fiction and filled with a great many conceptual possibilities. The Time Traveller seems to discover none of them. The time travel is simply a mean to get Riisa Naka into the past. Once there, the film spends most of its time centred around the school setting and Riisa Naka’s relationship with her benefactor Akinobu Nakao. There is almost nothing in the way of conundrums regarding time travel, nor much done in the way of building up the mystery regarding the identity of Kazuo. There is almost nothing in the way of culture shock or adjustment except for a single scene where Akinobu Nakao marvels after she shows him her cellphone. You might contrast The Time Traveller to Back to the Future (1985), which has a not dissimilar plot arc – where Back to the Future had Michael J. Fox going back, trying to save his own existence by getting his family together and then returning to the present, this film merely has Riisa Naka going back and not doing much more than placing an ad in a newspaper to find someone in a photo. The plot that drives the film is vague and it feels like nothing is generated in the way of urgency about her quest.
The film does pick up somewhat at the end when Akari finally gets to meet the grown-up Kazuo and everything falls into place as to who he is, not to mention connects up to The Girl Who Leapt Through Time. This is the point that the plot finally does something. The film goes out on a mildly tragic ending and the final images of Riisa Naka watching the amateur science-fiction film without really understanding what it means holds something momentarily poignant. However, for what the film tries to do, you feel like it should have moved you more than that.