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The Girl Who Leapt Through Time: Peter Goes To The North American Premiere
Peter Tatara - March 8, 2007

I took in the North American premiere of Toki wo Kakeru Shoujo this past weekend. Toki wo Kakeru Shoujo translates pretty much to The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, and that's pretty much what the movie is about. Acclaimed in Japan, winning a score of prestigious awards, the animation's received only unanimous praise whenever it's been shown -- including this past weekend's premiere.

A lot of Japanese movies are filled with robots, science fiction, and fantasy, but there's a genre of which that -- while full of flashes, booms, and spectacles -- use these fantastical elements as but props, their true meanings allegories. While they razzle, dazzle, and most certainly impress with the size and scope of their set pieces, these films are about the transformation from child to adult, and as their credits role what one remembers isn't the machines, the space ships, or the super soldiers from the future -- but the very real and very intimate feeling of knowing, too, the pain, and angst, and worry, and dread, and liberation that is becoming an adult.

The Girl Who Leapt Through Time is one such film. It is a story of a girl who -- literally -- leaps through time, and as each leap takes her more and more into an age of science fiction, each also separates her farther and farther from the familiarity of youth, until with her last leap she stands in a new world. No, the world isn't new. It's the same world she's always known, but it is she who is new, looking out at her family and friends with one whose eyes have the depth of age.

Good? Yes. Pretentious? I certainly make it sound like it, but The Girl Who Leapt Through Time is anything but avant garde, imposing, and intellectual. It's human. It's also funny. As I've said, the protagonist actually leaps through time, and each leap is accompanied by ever-more-serious head wounds. The entire film is a cavalcade of injuries brought on by blunt force trauma -- including concussions dealt by baseballs, basketballs, cabbages, fire extinguishers, bicycles, and trains. You laugh, and then all of a moment later, you're at the edge of your seat, straining forward, eyes wide and trembling. The Girl Who Leapt Through Time is a tapestry of emotion.

The Girl Who Leapt Through Time is a stunning film, the kind that leaves you groggy and footing unsure as you leave the theatre -- as if you left a part of yourself with the screen. But it's not for everyone. Who's likely to be turned off by it? Children. The Girl Who Leapt Through Time premiered in North America in the New York International Children's Film Festival, and while I and all the other Japanophiles and film snobs fell in love, as it turns out the kids in the audience were rather bored out of the skulls. Did they just sit and sulk until the thing came to a close?

Nope, they were New York City kids and let the entire audience know they weren't happy -- crumbling papers, tearing up programs, and crying to mommy and daddy about wanting to see the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles premiere -- not this. I had never heard a seven-year-old say "fuck" before, but heard it more times than I can count during the The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, and each and every utterance -- in high, prepubescent voices laced with an ungrounded malaise -- was more unnerving than the last. About halfway through the film, I was fed up with two blonde little brothers groaning once a minute about the movie being -- gasp -- subtitled and had an all-to-visceral fantasy of leaning backward and popping 'em both in the jaw. I imagined the kids' parents congratulating me, soundly shaking my hand and slipping me a crisp $100 bill for my trouble. I, ultimately, didn't slug either of the brats, not because I didn't think I could take 'em, but because kids are snotty and I didn't want to get any snot on my suit coat.

I've got to say, I looked quite dashing at the premiere, breaking out a blazer for the first time this year. It felt good wearing it, too, but this is a story for another time. What didn't feel good was wandering about Saint Mark's looking for an uncrowded Japanese dive a 2 AM at the start of March in only a blazer. All the local izakaya -- notably Yakitori Taisho, Oh! Taisho, and Kenka -- had long lines of hipsters and yakuza sprawling out onto the street. Ultimately, I ended up walking halfway to Chinatown to crash at a barren Vietnamese bar. Food was good. Conversation, too. But, again, I'm drifting from my point. What is my point?

Blunt force trauma induces time travel.

Upon mediation, I think that's what The Girl Who Leapt Through Time is truly about, and upon further meditation, I really wish I knocked about the little bastards sitting behind me, 'cause if I slugged 'em hard enough, I'm sure I could have sent them back to the Cretaceous Period where any number of hungry dinosaurs, tar pits, and killer asteroids would have given them something to whine about.

I know I said The Girl Who Leapt Through Time is about growing up and finding yourself, but I was wrong. Rolling the film around inside my head, its deeper meaning is an affirmation of violence. More, I've got to say the entire thing comes off as an homage to and remake of Rocky. Fitting snugly with the original Rocky, an even better companion piece than the recently-released Rocky Balboa, The Girl Who Leapt Through Time is the story of an underdog who rises do to the ability to take heavy hits and then dish 'em back even harder when the time is right.

I know, at worst, this sounds retarded and, at best, inadequately researched and written, but neither Rocky nor The Girl Who Leapt Through Time are about thinking with your head. No, these are motion pictures about thinking with your heart (and/or fists), and my heart tells me I'm right.

Even more, if you line up Rocky and The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, you'll find all of the major brawls in the former correspond almost identically to all the time jumps in the latter. The Girl Who Leapt Through Time is truly, truly a carefully constructed work of art.

Now, at this point, you could call me a liar, and you'd be right, but that doesn't matter as I'm $5 richer, having won a wager that was made over cheap but good Vietnamese food late in the Manhattan night. I was told, you see, I couldn't write a review of The Girl Who Leapt Through Time that dovetails into a musing on Rocky, but I did. Pay up, Soppy.

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