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By Merle Bertrand | September 28, 2007

I wrote an essay several years ago entitled “The Save Button” that mused about what life would be like if we could live it the way we play video games. What if, I wondered, when we were faced with a tough decision, we could simply hit a “Save Button,” make a choice and see what happens. If it worked out, then great. If not, we could just go back to where we were when we “saved” our life, and go in the other direction.

Not a tremendously original idea, but I was proud of it.
It’s an idea that might have crossed director Mamoru Hosoda’s mind once or twice as well, although in the case of his sweet and affecting anime love fable “Girl Who Leapt Through Time,” Hosoda’s safety valve isn’t the “Save” button, but rather the ability to literally leap back in time for a do-over.

Makoto is the 17-year old heroine who accidentally discovers her ability right before she’s about to get hit by a train. An awkward tomboyish naïf, Makoto had been content to spend her summer days hanging out with her hunky guy pals Kosuke and Chiaki. Once she learns of her ability, however, Makoto uses it the same way any teenager would to make her days easier: if she flunks a pop quiz, she goes back and takes it again, armed with knowledge of the questions. If she’s hungry but doesn’t like what’s for dinner, she zips back and gorges herself on a meal she does like, then fast-forwards back to the present, where she can get away with picking at her food and not go hungry.

Innocence can’t last forever, however, and Makoto’s carefree days come to a screeching halt when she realizes that Chiaki’s feelings for her extend beyond simply playing baseball and platonic needling. When she then realizes that her meddling in the time stream has placed Kosuke’s life in grave danger, the innocent heroine must intervene to save him, while working through her suddenly far more complicated relationship with Chiaki.

As an anime fable of sorts, as opposed to a hardcore sci-fi time travel adventure, “Girl Who Leapt Through Time” wisely avoids winding itself up too much in the intricacies of time travel paradoxes and pointless techno babble explanations of the mechanics of time travel. Instead, it’s more like “I think I can, therefore, I can.”

As a result, we’re not dwelling on the mechanics under the hood, but rather the beauty of the body, and this is one visually pleasing film.

Since it’s anime, “Girl…” falls prey to the usual kinds of things that typically plague anime films: bizarre, jolting dialogue and syntax, lots of squeaky voices, and the inevitable cultural differences. For anime fans, none of these issues are deal breakers; to the rest of us, they’re just something to put up with while trying to concentrate on the story itself.

In the end, the film works fairly well, combining slapstick humor with a dash of sci-fi and a love story or two to boot. Winner of the 2007 Japanese Academy Award for Best Animated Film, “Girl Who Leapt Through Time” is the sort of film one would be tempted to watch more than once, even without having to go back in time to do so.

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