A refreshing, understated time travel movie. Makoto Konno is a schoolgirl who gains the power to jump backwards through time... and she uses this power to eat puddings, ace her school tests and do karaoke. Well, at first, anyway.
It's based on a 1967 novel by Yasutaka Tsutsui, one of Japan's most famous SF writers. This is the only animated version, but to date I also know of four TV adaptations (1972, 1985, 1994, 2002) and three live-action films (1983, 1997, 2010). Oddly, another animated film adaptation of a Yasutaka Tsutsui SF novel came out in 2006: Satoshi Kon's Paprika. I prefer this. As an aside, incidentally, I understand that this is technically a sequel rather than a direct adaptation, with the novel's protagonist Yoshiyama Kazuko playing a secondary supporting role as Makoto's aunt.
Anyway, Makoto is a tomboy who's younger than her years and not noticeably feminine. (Even her name is also a boy's name.) Her best friends are male and she's always running and playing baseball with them. Boyfriends she's aware of, theoretically, but they're a phenomenon that happens to other girls and she's never considered going in for that herself. When a friend does eventually ask her out on a date, she'll be poleaxed, then desperate to make that conversation unhappen. Her thought processes are shallow (to start with), her motivations are childish and she cries in a bawling, brat-like way that's a bit off-putting.
This is a coming-of-age story, obviously, but this characterisation means that Makoto's journey will cover more ground than is usual in that genre. To have grown up from that starting point means a lot, even if she's still indisputably Makoto afterwards. Some of her traits aren't that attractive, e.g. her reaction to surprising conversations, but she's going to learn better. On the other hand, her sheer energy is both childlike and appealing. Under almost any circumstances, her reaction to something will be dynamic and physical. She's also quite an athlete.
The coolest thing about this film is the simplicity of its time travel. Makoto time-jumps one day, doesn't have a clue what happened and goes to talk it over with Auntie Witch. (Guess who. "Witch" is what the family all call her.) Anyway, Yoshiyama Kazuko is unperturbed by Makoto's story and explains that it's a perfectly natural thing which lots of teenage girls go through. She might even be able to do it again. Makoto thinks her aunt must be delusional, but she's also intrigued enough to try... and it works. Makoto can jump into the past if she (wait for it) takes a big running jump. Admittedly we'll eventually learn that that's not the whole picture and I think there are some major question marks about the story logic, but fundamentally I think there's something irresistible about that premise. Technobabble? Secret research labs? Who needs any of that when you can just hurl yourself down a staircase?
It's so casual that it's practically a spoof of one's expectations and of other time travel stories. I similarly love what Makoto does with her gift. Imagine giving a small child the power of time-travel. That's what Makoto does. Is the universe in danger? Hell, no, unless you think reality might be in danger of being worn thin by Makoto's Groundhog Day antics.
The stakes get higher as Makoto gets more emotionally involved. I'm not sure I understand the ending, but what the hell. It's good.
The animation is beautiful. I don't so much mean the drawing, but how it moves. Makoto is a gift for animators and they bring her alive wonderfully, as she throws herself around and lives with her arms and legs. This is what the term "action film" should mean, not musclemen and gunfights. Meanwhile Tomoko noticed that the film uses Neon Genesis Evangelion's character designer, Yoshiyuki Sadamoto, so Makoto looks like a genki, female Ikari Shinji, while her friend Kousuke looks like a more mature and better-looking Touji Suzuhara.
Oh, and you've got to admire the way the film stays family-friendly and avoids panty shots, even though its main character is a teenage girl throwing herself around violently in a short skirt.
This is a gentle, small-scale film. The cast is all friends, family and classmates. It takes place at school. The universe is completely safe and the only problem with jumping back in time is that Makoto isn't very good at thinking through might what happen to other people. How much you like this film will obviously depend on how much you like its protagonist and her uncomplicated attitude to life, but I thought she was great. She's bursting with energy. She works hard to put right any mistakes she makes. She learns. I can't think of another time travel story like it.