It's the shortest PreCure movie, but probably the most startling. Not always in good ways, mind you. (I haven't yet seen them all, admittedly, but I've seen a few and I'd be surprised if any other PreCure movie ever knocked this one off its questionable perch.)
Synopsis: a prototype Hugtto! villain called Sirloin wants to stop time. (This is connected thematically with Saki being late for her date with Mai at the beginning.) He freezes the world and transports Saki and Mai to a surreal Escher/Dali desert labyrinth dimension, with clock towers. We meet two new fairies who look like clock hands and are called Hours and Minutes.
One-line summary of what really matters: Saki becomes hateful and argues with Mai, but then they have a lesbian reconciliation.
1. SAKI BECOMES HATEFUL AND ARGUES WITH MAI
Wow. PreCure's had feud episodes before, but not like this. Saki and Mai even had one in Splash Star ep.8, but that was the kind of timid "children's TV" argument where you have to stop and rewind to work out how the argument started in the first place. In the real world, it wouldn't be a speed bump. Afterwards, they were both distressed about how they said too much and hurt the other's feelings.
Not here. Saki needs shooting, frankly, and I barely recognised her from the TV series. I assumed that this movie had been released early in the show's run, before Saki's characterisation had stabilised, but no. It was released on 9 December, between episodes 42 and 43. Please Punch Me Saki's actions here include:
(a) still being asleep at 10:10 am when she'd agreed to go out with Mai (who's already waiting for her). Choppy has to wake her up.
(b) on eventually arriving for their date, very very late, she's not apologetic and instead scolds Mai for having wandered into a shop to look at clocks. (Refusing to admit that she's in the wrong is normal for her in this film. Instead she blames Mai, who of course is beautifully polite and always apologises immediately even when she wasn't in the wrong at all.)
(c) they're late for a karoake contest that Mai hadn't wanted to participate in. Saki forced her.
(d) on discovering that they helped Sirloin find his time-stopping clock, Mai apologises while Saki says it was Mai's fault. (In fact no one's to blame and they were just helping a passer-by with a request... but it was actually both of them. Mai's identified the clock, while Saki's the one who directed Sirloin to the shop.)
(e) some time later, our heroines are lost in a labyrinth. Fortunately, Mai has a plan. If they turn right at every junction, they should eventually find the exit. Saki shouts this down, saying, "I feel like it'll work out if we keep moving in random directions."
By this point, I hated Saki. Admittedly, though, this conflict is clearly the point of the film, instead of just being bad writing. The scriptwriters made this choice deliberately and I think it's brave of them. In a sense it's one of the most convincing examples of "PreCures Have A Fight", since you'd be fighting too if your friend behaved like this. Even their fairies tell them to calm down and stop being silly. Saki's being unpleasant, stupid and defeatist. Mai is a saint. However all that's build-up for...
2. A LESBIAN RECONCILIATION
I should start with a disclaimer. I'm unimpressed by a lot of what gets flagged up as gay/lesbian subtext by anime fans. This will often be no more than a mildly ambiguous scene, which could perhaps, arguably, maybe be called not incompatible with sexual attraction... if you wanted to be a creepy fan reading stuff that wasn't there into children's friendships.
That sort of applies here. This film is perfectly compatible with a reading of "very close friends", while the canonical indications are that Saki's straight.
That said, though, I'm pretty sure that the production team's intention was to portray these scenes as romantic. Superhero villain stuff is not the point of this film. Its first half is all about engineering a harsh, shocking break-up between the two girls, which leaves them both a distraught wreck. Their subsequent reconciliation is full of heartfelt emotional bonding and dialogue about how they're each other's only possible partner, how they'll forge the future together and stay together forever and ever. (There's a much weaker version of the same thing in the second Max Heart film, incidentally, which had the same writer and director.)
It sounds as if they're going to get married. You're not obliged to see this as romantic, but the film's giving lots of fuel to anyone who chooses to.
3. OTHER STUFF
I think the film's badly directed. Junji Shimizu's directed six PreCure movies and plenty of TV episodes, but never mind that. What he does well is the fight scenes. He's playing with a movie budget and couldn't care less about the Splash Star TV show's timidity about violence. These fights would be impressive in any PreCure series, which means they'd also trash most of their rivals in the superhero and shounen battle genres. (They're also quite short fights, mind you, while Sirloin's ultimate defeat is incoherent. Magic magic magic "I was defeated" what?)
However other beats, for me, failed.
(a) the pre-credits comedy beat of Saki waking up late is slightly mistimed.
(b) I disagree with the film's portrayal of the moment where time freezes. Flappy and Choppy's reactions are spot on, but Saki and Mai's surprise levels are on a par with getting an extra ice cream scoop. That should have been spookier. There should have been a slower realisation. Admittedly they're accustomed to Uzainaa and impossible things happening, but even so no attempt has been made to portray the girls' reactions on a non-superficial level.
(c) Saki jumping down on to the Uzainaa's head conveys no sense of danger. She jumps, then lands with no intermediate shot of her falling. (Instead there's an odd falling point-of-view-ish shot that doesn't work, partly because it's looking back upwards whereas Saki would have been looking down.)
(d) "Why don't you give up? Why do you stand up again?" cries Sirloin at the finale. This is obvious set-up for the Splash Star rallying cry of "never give up", but here it's unintentionally comedic because it comes just after the PreCures pummelled the living daylights out of him. He's just grown into a kaijuu, yes, but so what? They'd been winning. Why should they give up? The villain's surprise at that is just the scriptwriter taking the mickey.
Despite everything, paradoxically, this is quite an interesting film. It's memorable. It contains imperfections and bad directorial choices, but it's also one of the few PreCure films that you might be interested in rewatching. It's got far more personality than most of them and it's blindingly clear about what it's trying to do, in a way that has force for a moderately forgiving adult audience as well as the intended children's one. I sort of admire it. Its heroines' emotional journey couldn't be clearer even if you parodied it. It also works as a PreCure film, with the girls' friendship problems reducing their effectiveness as magical fighters. (A PreCure's strength comes, literally, from her heart.) It's sending a strong, simple message to its target audience.
My limited experience of PreCure films to date is that half of them are cheerfully empty-headed fluff for tiny children, while the other half are worth watching on at least some level. This one's in the latter category.