時をかける少女(Toki o Kakeru Shōjo)
Running time: 122 min.
Reviewed by David Lam
“You have to go back” is what Kazuko (Narumi Yasuda) tells her daughter Akari (Riisa Naka) before slipping out of consciousness. With those parting words, our young heroine is convinced that drinking a strange concoction from her mother’s research lab while wishing really really hard is going to send her back in time to 1972, where she will come across a mysterious man who will be able to bring her mother out of her coma. Things go according to plan except for the fact that she ends up two years ahead of her destination. As ridiculous as the premise is, the filmmakers manage to sustain the viewer’s attention for awhile by keeping things moving along in a relatively brisk pace. Unfortunately what ensues after Akari makes her way back in time is a mishmash of dodgy special effects and a whole lot of meandering.
What keeps time travel refreshing as a genre is the fact that there are no rules. It allows you to escape the traditional conventions of a linear narrative. You’re allowed to be as perplexing as you want. The story doesn’t have to make sense but it does have to be innovative. The problem with the film is that it makes too much sense. It doesn’t take advantage of its time travel premise to explore any interesting questions. Instead, the filmmakers are far too content with providing scene after scene of Akari pining for the love of college student Ryota (Akinobu Nakao). He has aspirations of becoming a filmmaker and she’s the muse he has been waiting for all along. They have feelings for one another, but there’s no way they can be together because she doesn’t belong in his timeline. Oh, the dilemma! All of this would be a little easier to digest if the love story itself wasn’t so shoehorned in. The swelling music in the background and the generous use of close-ups do nothing to mask the vapid performances of the actors. Even the scenes in which Akari finally encounters her mother and estranged father as idealistic youths are devoid of any sense of dramatic tension. Things just unravel in a pedestrian way without any emotional payoff. We follow Akari and Ryota while they visit a bath house, eat noodles at a food stand and occasionally attempt to make a film. We’re supposed to see meaning in their actions but instead it all just comes across as being extremely boring.
As the film inches along, it seems as if Akari has completely forgotten the reason for going back in time. She’s far more tortured by the fact that she can’t find a way to be with Ryota than awaking her mother. When the film finally does make its way back to the time travel plot, it introduces a character by the name of Kazuo Fukamachi (Kanji Ishimaru ). He serves as a deus ex machina, trivially tying up all the loose ends. He’s a time traveling guru who possesses the ability to course correct events by mind wiping those involved. No explanation is given as to how he came across this ability and the full extent of erasing someone’s memory is never explored. This isn’t necessary that glaring of a problem because at least it mercifully brings the film to an end, even if it’s an unsatisfying end. If anything, the dues ex machina shows up too late. Because unlike any of the other characters, he’s actually somewhat interesting. His appearance gives the story a much needed jolt and it’s unfortunate that the filmmakers didn’t base the story around his character or at least introduce him sooner.
Apparently, this film is neither a prequel nor a sequel to Mamoru Hosoda’s 2006 animated film "The Girl Who Leapt Through Time". By all accounts, both films have different storylines and are only linked together by the theme of time travel and some overlapping characters. There remains a slight possibility that watching the animated film will make the live action film a little more comprehensible and enjoyable. Even if that’s not the case, it’s hard to see how it could make the film any worse than it already is. Ultimately, "Time Traveller" wants to be both a coming of age romance and a piece of intriguing science fiction, but unfortunately, it doesn’t succeed at being either.
Read more by David Lam at his blog