Two Adaptations: A Disaster and a Masterpiece

The Little Girl Who Conquered Time (1983):

The Girl Who Leapt Through Time (2006):

Toki o kakeru shoujo is a famous Japanese novel which has often been adapted into films and TV miniseries. Nobuhiko Obayashi’s live-action adaptation, translated as The Little Girl Who Conquered Time, was made in 1983. It’s notable for the cheesy special effects and the then-famous lead actress, Tomoyo Harada. The up-and-coming anime director Mamoru Hosoda adapted the novel into an anime film called The Girl Who Leapt Through Time (2006) which is essentially more like an indirect sequel to the original story although the plot is superficially the same: the heroine is thrust into a world of love triangle(s) after she discovers that she is able to travel in time.

I’m simply bewildered at how different in quality these two adaptations are. The older film’s screenplay is a mess. Plot holes and paradoxes can usually be expected from films about time travel, but it seems to rely too much on the novel for more detailed representation since it is sometimes quite nonsensical. I’m not saying the newer one is completely free of paradoxes, but it sure does hide them better and there is only one puzzling problem that is hardly worth noting in the end. The characters are truly boring in the older adaptations, sometimes awkward and sometimes hazily characterized – whereas Hosoda’s films feature instantly recognisable and colorful characters that will hold your attention throughout the film. Heck, even Hosoda’s understated comic relief makes his adaptation instantly superior: it gives the film the correct atmosphere and pacing before the dramatic final act. However, the biggest difference is how thematically bankrupt the “original” film is: it’s simply geeky use of time travel without anything else. Hosoda cleverly attatches multiple themes (including responsibility) to a story that seemed to lack complexity and even the romance is way more genuine this time around.

It’s hard to determine whether the live-action film’s acting is bad because the actors are incapable or because the director was bad. One thing is for certain: Harada’s performance walks a fine line between sweetness and dorkiness. The role is obviously just another way to increase her fame since even the ending credits sequence is an incredibly corny music video made just for her to able to show off her singing chops.  The other actors are pretty much wooden apart from the two teachers who are natural even though their characters are badly written. The anime film’s voice actors deserve praise. Especially Riisa Naka’s performance as the protagonist is so captivating that it is sad she hasn’t had any other roles besides that.

It might seem that I utterly bash Obayashi’s films, but there’s one intriguing even if flawed aspect of the film: it’s, uh, “colorful” form. The cheesiness of the 80’s can be found anywhere: stiff camerawork and heavy-handed editing that can be very confusing at best. The most notable mention goes to the awkward special effects and experimental approach to the time travel sequences (montages of still shots with quirky CGI laid roughly on top). On top of that there are is random usage of edited colors (such as partly colored, partly back & white shots). The soundtrack is also noteworthy because it manages to make the film relatively (=not at all in the end) enjoyable. Hosoda’s film is a formal achievement as well. Fluid animation, great character design and clever compositions stand out. The best bit is the editing that can alternatively intensify the story hugely (especially during the time travel sequences) or leave a more unforgettable image of the drama by (more or less) subtly focusing on traffic lights at a dramatic turning point. Oku Hanako’s songs are poignantly placed and the ending credits song (Garnet) is great in particular.

I’m tempted to say it’s a “miracle” that both of them are based on the same literary source since the final results are drastically different. Maybe this one is up to the directors: Obayashi isn’t simply capable of pulling off what is necessary while Hosoda makes the most out of the simple idea.

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About Oz
A Finnish film buff who has taken a huge interest in language and Japanese cinema. Can be contacted via email (johlauri@hotmail.com), Twitter (@OzymandiasJL) and a Private Message on EvaGeeks (Oz).

3 Responses to Two Adaptations: A Disaster and a Masterpiece

  1. Sachi says:

    I hadn’t been in the film subforum in a while and I never realized you guys already had this blog up. Lovin’ what I’m seeing so far, and I’ll be sure to promote it on my own blog.

    Anyways, I haven’t seen The Little Girl Who Conquered Time, likely due to my lack of foreign film knowledge, and based on what you have had to say about it, I’m not missing out on much. Though, I am interested in entertaining myself with the original story based off the novel. Maybe I’ll check it out and form my own opinion out of it. Otherwise, I totally agree that Hosada’s The Girl That Leapt Through Time is pretty much a perfect movie, and it probably succeeds the original story several times over.

    Keep up the good work!

  2. Pingback: R&A by JL: Summer Wars « Forced Perspective

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