Before Mamiko’s film, I took the opportunity to show the four-days-previous Oscar winner for Best Animated Short Film, The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore. This gem of a film was directed by William Joyce and Brandon Oldenburg, two Louisiana natives whose vision was clearly influenced by Hurricane Katrina.
The brief story begins with Morris sitting on a New-Orleans-Style balcony and writing a book when a hurricane whips through, blowing the entire town away. When Morris picks himself up, he has turned to black-and-white. As he wanders out of the destruction of the hurricane, he sees in the sky a young woman being carried away by a flock of flying books. One book (a particularly creepy version of Humpty Dumpty) breaks off and flies down to him, leading him to a library filled with these airborne volumes. They colorize him, he becomes their caretaker (as the flying woman was before him, from her picture on the wall) and after a full life of flying librarian stewardship he finally completes his book as an aged man. At this point, his job done, the flying books restore his youth and fly him away and he releases his own book, which finds a new caretaker for the library in a beautiful cycle of life.
It’s worth a watch:
Following this, Mamiko presented the anime film The Girl Who Leapt Through Time. Directed by Mamoru Hosoda, it is not an adaptation of the 1967 novel with the same name, but is rather a sort of sequel, featuring the star of the book as the aunt of the film’s main character Makoto.
The film starts by following the day-to-day activities of three high-school students, Makoto (sleeping), Chiaki (standing) and Kousuke (sitting). Makoto has a pretty good thing going because both Chiaki and Kousuke are hot for her, but she’s totally clueless and seems pretty unprepared for a romantic relationship anyway.
Soon, Makoto has one of those days when you wish you had stayed in bed. Her little sister has eaten the pudding she was saving, she’s late for school, she bombs a pop quiz, she starts a fire in Home Ec, and then while putting away some textbooks as part of her class duties she suspects somebody is following her in the empty lab room, trips on a mysterious walnut-shaped object and comes down in a tumbling mess. Of course, no bad day can end that easily.
On her way home, her bicycle brakes fail down a steep slope, and at the stroke of 4 PM she flies through a crossing barrier right into the path of an oncoming train. For most people, dead is dead, but Makoto comes to having crashed her bike into a pedestrian near the top of the hill, and safely watches the 4 PM train barrel by at the bottom. Not being dead freaks her out, so she goes to have an intimate conversation with Auntie Witch.
Auntie Witch is your average freaky spinster art-restoring relative, which is exactly why you ask her (and not, say, your parents) when something really weird happens. And Auntie Witch knows all – it was a time leap. Auntie has done that sort of thing in the past (in the original book) and explains the situation, more or less.
Makoto uses her new-found power prodigiously. She gets the pudding back, she makes it to school on time, she sings the same hour of karaoke about 80 times.
She even blows about 4 or 5 of her jumps trying to avoid Chiaki asking her out on a date. Wait, did I say “blow her jumps”? Why, indeed I did. For unbeknownst to Makoto, time leaping isn’t free – she was “charged” when she fell on the glowing walnut thing and she’s running out.
She eventually discovers a bizarre mark on her arm which changes from 90 to 20 to 50 before she realizes that the line is supposed to go on the bottom and that the numbers are a jump countdown. Oops! Only two jumps left! But, being the goodhearted teen that she is, she decides to use her penultimate jump to help hook Kousuke up with a shy girl who has the hots for him, doing which requires her to jump back to before she was first powered-up on her bad day.
It works, but as with all time-travel stories, there are unintended consequences. First, somehow Chiaki becomes suspicious that she has been jumping, and asks her – which results in her spontaneously using her last jump to avoid the question rather than, say, have a serious conversation. This is followed by Kousuke borrowing her bike without asking. When she discovers this, remembering that her brakes are out she tries (conventionally, by running really hard) to stop Kousuke from the obvious result of getting crushed by the 4 PM train.
She fails. But somehow, time stops anyway.
It turns out that Chiaki has stopped it. In fact, Chiaki is from the future, and his walnut was the source of her jumping power. He had come back from an apocalyptic future just to view a painting that had been destroyed – a painting which Auntie Witch just happened to be restoring. He had to wait for the painting to be put back on display, joined the high school to fit in, and was just having such a great time with Makoto and Kousuke that he didn’t really want to go back. But when Kousuke died, he used his final jump to prevent it, and explaining this to Makoto in the stopped time, he reveals that with no ability to return to his time, he must now disappear. (Hey, I don’t make the time travel rules, I just report them.)
And disappear he does, to Makoto’s dismay now that she realizes she loves him. But in saving Kousuke he inadvertently jumped back to a time before Makoto used her last jump, restoring one to her. So what does she do? She uses the same trick, restores a jump to Chiaki, and facing what is clearly her greatest fear, has a frank conversation with him explaining everything. You know, these things that he doesn’t know she knows. It’s time travel, it’s supposed to be complicated.
For his part Chiaki admits he loves her, but despite his ability to have stuck around for at least a year hanging with her (suggesting he could just stay indefinitely), he opts to jump back to a post-apocalyptic future rather than just stick with Makoto. How does that make you feel, Makoto? You got dumped so Chiaki could go play Warrior of the Lost World! Ouch. Still, there’s a bizarre hopeful note that Chiaki will be waiting for her in the future (when she’ll be 600 and really hot) and Makoto, who previously did not know what to do with her life, decides to follow her aunt in art restoration in the hopes of ensuring that Chiaki’s favorite painting will be there for him in the future. (I guess there’s no major in Averting Apocalypses in Japan, so she picked the next best thing.)
So the ending is a bit weird, but all in all it’s a really smart, tight, time-travel movie, and Makoto is a very well-drawn character (no pun intended). I think it’s actually better the second time through because of the complicated plot that is easier to follow once you know it, and the many nice touches that you don’t catch the first time. For instance, you discover at the end of the film that Chiaki has a tattoo-counter on his wrist, and you wonder how nobody sees. Oh wait, he wears a wristband the whole movie! And you never even noticed this the first time, because there was no reason to.
So I highly recommend this movie, if for no other reason than that it’s not Primer.