From the writer of Paprika comes the finest Japanese animé released in the UK so far this year. A beguiling and affecting mix of lost love, alternate time-lines and near-death experiences, TokiKake (to use its colloquial Japanese title) tells the tale of a high school girl who picks up a device left behind by a time traveller and gets given the power to leap back through time and change history. At first Makoto uses the power for the most frivolous of reasons – revisiting favourite afternoons and even popping back for a particularly nice dinner – but then starts to meddle in the lives and love lives of her classmates.
In the West, one suspects the telling of this kind of story would be fairly twee but Japanese manga and animé aimed at tweenage audiences, particularly female ones, is amongst the most sophisticated. In fact, the definition of shí…Âjo (meaning little girl) manga / animé in the US has been appropriated to mean stories that have an appeal to both genders and tends to deal with real-life situations and concerns. Although TokiKake is obviously sci-fi, it deals with its subject matter sensitively and looks at the moral and personal repercussions that such a power to change history might have. As such, it recalls two popular Western time travel tales, the TV series Quantum Leap and the brilliant comedy Groundhog Day. Like QL, it deals with the responsibility a time traveller might have, as changing a single person’s life might affect the lives of others. The void that Makoto travels though – criss-crossed with black stripes representing years and timelines – is also reminiscent of some of the visual tropes of the series. The repetitious aspects of Makoto’s travels and her attempts to make things better also recall Bill Murray’s at first hedonistic and eventually self-improving changes to reality in Groundhog Day.
However, it’s entirely possible that the creators of Quantum Leap and Groundhog Day may have themselves been influenced by the original novel on which TokiKake is based. In Japan, at least, it’s a book that has achieved cult status and has been adapted previously as two live action films, a TV series and a short film in the last 25 years. In fact, the only frustrating aspect of this new version is that it feels like it’s part of a larger story; indeed, this new version is both a remake of and sequel to a previous adaptation. As the story deals with revisiting the same period over and over again it is somewhat apt that each film is connected to the last – the 1997 adaptation is narrated by the actress who played the heroine in the film from 1983 while Makoto’s aunt in this film may very well be the lead character from 97…
This element shouldn’t put off casual viewers though as the subtlety of the animation and elegant layout of many scenes make this a film to be commended for its aesthetics alone, before even considering the intelligent script and engaging characterisation. Like Paprika, it tells the tale of a seemingly normal girl with a fantastic alter ego who is needed to stop a catastrophe (in every sense of the word) from happening and has to put her personal concerns to one side. As you might expect from a time-travel drama, her story is left somewhat open-ended, and while there are already a variety of print and live action prequels, I’d be more than happy to see another instalment to find out what happens next.