Koiso Kenji is asked by his pretty, popular (and older) crush Natsuki to help her travel out to her great-grandmother’s 90th birthday. He arrives to learn that she not only has an incredibly large extended family with quite a prominent history, but that she’s passing him off as her boyfriend and fiancé. Add in that the global communications and networking program, OZ, has been hacked by a vicious AI and it might be his fault, and Kenji is in for an experience he’ll never forget.
summary by Illjwamh
Highs: Great animation; creative designs; powerful themes put to use
Lows: Characterization of leads glossed over
From Hosoda Mamoru, director of The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, comes another beautiful slice of life drama with deep-seeded themes about the various aspects of the human condition. A much wider cast of characters is presented to us this time in the form of Natsuki’s extended family. Under their venerated old matriarch (who is one of the coolest old ladies ever), they are spread out across Japan in all sorts of professions and locations, but remain a very tight-knit family group. We get to meet several of them early on in a sequence that actually reminded me of Disney’s Meet the Robinsons, though less comedic. Many of them are constants throughout the film, and their various skills and connections become very important as the plot elevates.
The two leads, while both very likeable, take a while for us to become comfortable with. We are not really given an introduction to either of them at any point, and any exposition concerning them or their circumstances is minimal and brief. I’d say this is the one major drawback to the film, which is a shame because it’s something Hosoda’s previous work had in spades. We do get to know both of them over time, and even root for them, but it would have been much nicer had we been able to do that from the start.
There are many strong themes present in this work, and while each is presented to us in a way that leaves no doubt as to the intended message, none of them feel too heavy or forced. A very idealized view of family and kinship is displayed, but in a way that makes you smile as opposed to rolling your eyes. Among other things, we explore the nature of communication both past and present, the value of interpersonal relationships as opposed to online ones, and the importance of family unity in the face of adversity. This is a movie that sets out to evoke powerful emotions in its viewers, and for the most part succeeds quite brilliantly.
Most of the other aspects of the film serve to show that Hosoda was not the only member of The Girl Who Leapt Through Time’s production team to carry over. The animation is done in the same style, and even the virtual world of OZ looks a lot like time-travel limbo. The voice acting was a thing of excellence, though weirdly there was another instance of unrealistic crying from the female lead; however it wasn’t nearly as bad as the last time and didn’t pull me out of the moment. Still noteworthy though, and perhaps a failing of the director rather than the actress, now that a pattern has emerged.
Is this worth a watch? Most definitely, for film enthusiasts of all kinds, whether you prefer anime or not. Of Hosoda’s two most recent films, I would definitely call this the stronger one were it not for the lack of introduction to our two protagonists. Everything else works better here: side characters, background events, the overall plot and its continuity, but great as all that really was, it’s just so much harder to get into it if I can’t get absorbed by the leads.