A shimmering hot sunny summer day, crickets happily chirping in the background, very bright green and blue colors, two guys and a girl playing some baseball, leasurely talking about life. Yups, Toki o Kakeru Shojo (The Girl Who Leapt Through Time) is that kind of film. Which is a little surprising, considering Hosoda's earlier efforts. Luckily, it turned out all for the better.
Hosoda gathered a reputation when he elevated two mainstream series (Digimon and One Piece) to a slightly higher level through their movie spin-offs. Sadly, not enough to make them enjoyable. So I quickly lost track of Hosada and after having watched the original trailer of Toki, felt little incentive to renew my interest in his work.
Still, when I came across Toki o Kakeru Shojo for a second time, I decided to watch it anyway. And I'm glad I finally did. Hosoda manages himself better with material that hasn't established itself yet. Toki is at heart a typical drama reminiscent of the films of Takahata or Hiroshi Ishikawa, enriched with some fantasy elements, bringing him closer to the work of Makoto Shinkai. And while his talent doesn't match that of any of the names mentioned above, it would be unfair to call Hosoda second-rate or light-weight.
Toki o Kakeru Shojo takes a lighter approach to its romantic theme, mixing in a timid sci-fi perspective. Though the whole time leaping business might sound important, in reality it's just a simple means to put some accents on certain parts of the storyline. It does bring a nice twist to the film, which could otherwise have slipped rather anonymously between a long list of Japanese dramas (animated or not).
Visually, Hosoda's style is somewhat acquired. There's a distinct lack of detail in the character designs and the coloring is kept simple as well. Still, it works for the slender, realistic looking characters, especially when you see them animated. The lack of detail allows the characters to assume some more realistic movements. The backgrounds on the other hand are often very detailed and rather lush to look at.
The soundtrack is simple but effective, largely consisting of music that creates a soothing atmosphere without being too noticeable. There are a few times where the music is a little over-the-top, but in general there's enough cricket-chirping and soft piano music to put you right at ease.
To keep with the lighter atmosphere, Hosoda leaves room for several comedic scenes which blend in well with the rest of the film. By doing this, he makes sure the film never becomes too depressing or hard to swallow. The sci-fi elements remain simple but effective throughout the film and help to keep the film entertaining, leaving the viewer in a constant chilled atmosphere.
Toki o Kakeru Shojo is at heart a very simple romantic drama, with a few additions to keep it interesting to the seasoned fan. If you're in the mood for action or lots of plot twists, there's little here for you. But if you're up for a little variation on the Ghibli magic, this film might be a pretty good bet to make. It's not up there with the best, but Hosoda isn't far behind either.