One Small Leap into Anime: Toki wo Kakeru Shoujo
When I first watched anime, I told myself to only watch Miyazaki and Ghibli films. At that time, I was only a film buff. Ask me my favorite director and it will be Kubrick. My favorite movies are Barry Lyndon and Andrei Rublev, directed by him and Tarkovskiy respectively. The only Japanese things worth touching were Kurosawa, Ghibli, and sushi.
I used Amazon.com as a recommendation aggregator and it tend to be helpful on selecting movies. My library of movies inside my brain expanded a lot thanks to this website. Once, it showed a particular anime called The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, its Japanese title being Toki wo Kakeru Shoujo. Since Amazon said the movie was similar to various Miyazaki works like My Neighbor Totoro, I downloaded it, thinking it was a Miyazaki film. I was fifteen at that time and was definitely more than just a blockhead of all blockheads.
And thank goodness I was an idiot. If not for this mistake, I wouldn’t have watched anime.
My pretentious fifteen year old self started the film and the first thing he said is “What’s with the funky graphics?” (Pardon the young kid’s idiocy for confusing ‘graphics’ and ‘animation’) Anyone who has grown up with Ghibli will find Hosoda Mamoru’s (“This isn’t Miyazaki?!?!”) and the key animators’ direction a bit choppy. The background’s lack of detail makes me crave of the lushness of forests found in Princess Mononoke. I had a hard time adjusting to the flatness and lack of detailed shadows on body features of the characters.
Frustrated that Amazon fooled me and that I was lazy to check Wikipedia, I almost closed it until plot development arrived. Konno Makoto, high schooler, goes up to the science lab room to return the textbooks as part of class duty. Then, she goes inside, barely seeing a shadow running past her. Surprised, she trips from an object that is about the size of a chestnut and her elbow accidentally touches it. She enters, what I assumed at that time, a vortex of impressionist paintings with a Goldberg variation playing and she drops right back into the science lab.
Confused and dizzy, she goes home on her bicycle. However, her bicycle’s brakes malfunctioned and she’s going downhill; the train is coming and she can’t stop the bicycle from hitting the gates. The bicycle hits it and she flies off the bicycle onto the oncoming train.
And I remarked, “Of course, she’ll time travel.”
Which she did. The pretentious fifteen year old self felt he was getting smarter and smarter everyday.
But what he did not expect is how time travelling is used in this work. I hadn’t read The Time Machine at that time yet, but as I write this essay now, I was reminded of it. H.G. Wells’s The Time Machine is not just the first instance of time travelling, but it was a satire criticizing technology for letting us idle too much. Similarly, Toki wo Kakeru Shoujo is not too interested in the science behind it, but something else.
Makoto, at first, is introduced as a lazy student, but that laziness comes from her immaturity and lack of understanding and care of others. Instead of using it to help the world, she repeats a period of time to sing karaoke repeatedly. When a guy confesses his love to her, she time leaps backwards to avoid that fate. Time travelling, in this case, is more like a metaphor for not facing reality and yourself.
The cathartic ending, thanks to its ingenious plot twist, blew my mind away. For the first time in years, I had something emotional in my heart rising. It was almost unbearable and at the same time, I felt like I must watch it to see the end. The films I watched (and still watch today) are philosophical, thought-provoking, and their messages are expressed through acting and camera movement. This anime is nothing of that.
Six months later (aka the time I started to get addicted to anime), most people I talk to who watched this work say it’s a good movie, nothing else. One of them thought it was ordinary (that said, he criticized Kiki’s Delivery Service and Aria for being ‘nothing’ and he watches harem shows). I was confused why people thought it was just an okay work.
Maybe from all this bitter Russian/French medicine I’ve been swallowing, I really needed something simple; I’ve heard of people watching crappy works for the sake of escapism. That’s what I figured.
Weeks earlier before writing this essay, I rewatched the movie again. And I was addicted. I rewatched it two more times the next day. So I was wrong; it wasn’t because of my simpleton thinking (that had led to me rate Akikan! an 8 because I’m an idiot), but the emotions I felt from the show still exists.
To explain this, there is an emotional sequence in the end that I particularly enjoyed:
If the picture of snot-faced Makoto was by itself, I think it would be a funny, demeaning picture. However, the previous picture suggests otherwise. And if you know the context behind the picture, it’s even better. Now, that’s what I called wonderful direction. Seeing this sequence even in static form conjures up good, romantic memories.
At the end of the film, I was staggering from the huge catharsis I felt. And this happened to me too when I rewatched it. Every single time I watched it, it mesmerized me. You don’t have to read Dostoevsky or Camus to understand what you just watched; it’s just a story about a girl growing up.
I’ve fallen in love with anime thanks to this work. Most of my prejudiced biases with anime have dissipated and I looked beyond Miyazaki; Mamoru; the late Satoshi Kon; and more. And this is an anime I often recommend to anime beginners because of how well-written this work was. There’s a charm to it that I cannot deny.
Many people say it’s difficult to get into watching anime, but if you push yourself a bit further it’s worth it. My silly small step has turned into a giant leap and I love it.