The Little Girl Who Conquered Time (時をかける少女, Nobuhiko Obayashi, 1983)

Little Girl Who Conquered TImeThe Girl Who Leapt Through Time is a perennial favourite in its native Japan. Yasutaka Tsutsui’s original novel was first published back in 1967 giving rise to a host of multimedia incarnations right up to the present day with Mamoru Hosoda’s 2006 animated film of the same name which is actually a kind of sequel to Tsutsui’s story. Arguably among the best known, or at least the best loved to a generation of fans, is Hausu director Nobuhiko Obayashi’s 1983 movie The Little Girl Who Conquered Time (時をかける少女, Toki wo Kakeru Shoujo) which is, once again, a Kadokawa teen idol flick complete with a music video end credits sequence.

As in the novel, the story centres around regular high school girl Kazuko Yoshiyama (Tomoyo Harada). She has two extremely close male friends (generally a recipe for disaster, or at least for melodrama but this is not that kind of story) – Horikawa and Fukamachi, and one Saturday while all three are charged with cleaning up the schoolroom, Kazuko ventures into the science lab where she sees a beaker on the floor emitting thick white smoke which smells strongly of lavender causing her to pass out. Everyone seems to think it’s either hunger, anaemia, or that old favourite “woman’s troubles” but from this day on Kazuko’s life begins to change. The same day repeats itself over and over again with minor differences and Kazuko also begins to experience multilayered dreams in which her friends are in some kind of peril.

Tsutsui’s original novel was a Kadokawa Shoten property (though first published 15 years previously) which made it a natural fit for the Kadokawa effect so when legendary idol master Haruki Kadokawa found an idol he was particularly taken with in Tomoyo Harada the stars aligned. Obayashi set the story in his own hometown, the pleasantly old fashioned port village of Onomichi, which adds a nicely personal feel to his take on the original story. Although The Little Girl Who Conquered Time is an adaptation of a classic novel, many of Obayashi’s regular concerns are present from the wistful tone to the transience of emotion and the importance of memory.

Kazuko is another of Obayashi’s young women at a crossroads as she finds herself wondering what to do with the rest of her life. The original timeline seems to point to a romance and possibly a life of pleasant, if dull, domesticity with one of her best friends but with this time travelling intrusion everything diverges. Though assured that she will not remember most of the strange events that have been happening to her, something of her adventures seems to have stuck in Kazuko’s mind even if she couldn’t quite say why. Much to the consternation of her mother, Kazuko’s purpose in life begins to lean to towards the scientific rather than the romantic, almost as if she’s waiting for the return of someone whom she has no recollection of having met.

Obayashi once again uses conflicting colour schemes to anchor his story. Beginning with black and white as Kazuko has her first encounter with someone she’s known all her life under the brightly shining stars, he gradually re-introduces us to the “real” world through sporadically adding colour during her bus ride home to her small town which does have a noticeably more old fashioned aesthetic when compared to Tokyo set features of the era. The effects are highly stylised and very much of their time including the celebrated time travel sequence which has Kazuko framed by a neon blue halo. The most touching sequence occurs near the end of the film in which Kazuko crosses paths with a familiar face that she doesn’t quite recognise, the camera perspective actively changes physically pulling us away from the encounter until Kazuko turns around and walks away in the opposite direction and into yet another empty corridor.

Tomoyo Harada developed into a fine actress with a long standing and successful career in both television and feature films as well as releasing a number of full length albums. As is usual with this kind of film she also sings the theme tune which has the same title as the movie though in an unusual movie Obayashi includes a music video retelling of the events of the film over the end credits featuring all of the cast helping Harada to perform the song with silly grins on their faces all the way through. Harada proves herself much more adept at convincingly carrying a feature length movie than some of her fellow idols but the same cannot be said for many of her co-stars though she is well backed up by established adult cast members including Ittoku Kishibe as Kazuko’s romantically distressed teacher.

The Little Girl Who Conquered Time is first and foremost a Kadokawa idol movie and has all the hallmarks of this short lived though extremely successful genre. Necessarily very much of its time, the film has taken on an additional layer of nostalgic charm on top of that which has been deliberated injected into it. Nevertheless, in keeping with Obayashi’s other work The Little Girl Who Conquered Time has a melancholic, wistful tone which is sentimental at times but, crucially, always sincere.


Original trailer (no subtitles)

And here’s the famous music video for the title song (which is of course sung by Tomoyo Harada herself). English Subtitles!

The Deserted City (廃市, Haishi, Nobuhiko Obayashi, 1984)

haishiNobuhiko Obayashi might be most closely associated with his debut, Hausu, which takes the form of a surreal, totally psychedelic haunted house movie, but in many ways his first feature is not particularly indicative of the rest of Obayashi’s output. 1984’s The Deserted City (AKA Haishi, 廃市), is a much better reflection of the director’s most prominent preoccupations as it once again sees the protagonist taking a journey of memory back to a distant youth which is both forgotten in name yet ever present like an anonymous ghost haunting the narrator with long held regrets and recriminations.

Based on a novel by Takehiko Fukunaga, The Deserted City is a European influenced, nostalgic, coming of age tale in which university student Eguchi travels to a small Japanese backwater famous for its canals. Though not as sophisticated as Venice itself, the town shares something of the atmosphere of that city as it has often been evoked in literature in its slightly claustrophobic, decaying grandeur. Eguchi has come to the town on an invitation from his uncle and with the intention of spending the summer there to finish his undergraduate dissertation which concerns the work of Edgar Allen Poe.

However, Tokyoite Eguchi immediately finds the town strange, if mostly charming, with its old fashioned rhythms and almost silent soundscape in which only the lapping of the village’s many rivers is audible. Staying in a guest house run by 19 year old Yasuko and her grandmother, Eguchi begins to hear gentle sobbing at night and jumps to the conclusion it must belong to Yasuko’s married older sister, Ikuyo, whom he has yet to meet. Younger brother Saburo also lurks silently in the background with the brother-in-law, Naoyuki, making infrequent appearances. Eguchi had apparently almost forgotten about this single summer in his youth, but was reminded of it after reading a newspaper report that the town had been destroyed in a fire. His memories are coloured by the tragedy which occurred towards the end of his stay and which his youthful soul was not fully able to understand.

The Deserted City revisits many of the themes which came to define Obayashi’s career from the nostalgia for youth and the power of memory to a vaguely supernatural tone which prefigures the final traumatic event that will continue to haunt the protagonist, even if unconsciously, for the rest of his life. Fukunaga was himself very much influenced by European literature and The Deserted City has a distinctly Western feeling with its death ridden canal town and once grand family in decline. Eguchi’s thesis is on the work of Edgar Allen Poe and it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that he is reading his studies into the story of his own life with the mysterious crying and hidden sister not to mention family secrets and the frequent allusions to the sorry state of the moribund city.

Eguchi describes Yasuko as “cheerful” yet she herself offers the most melancholic commentary of her life. She says she hates the town and can’t stand the constant sound of the waters which she likens the death wail of her city – a slothful sound without energy or purpose. She can see all the other young people leaving with only the elderly remaining behind to decay along with the town, but when Eguchi asks why she doesn’t leave too she replies that she can’t, she’s bound to this place in life and death. Similarly when making a visit to her mother’s grave at a nearby temple she remarks that in this place of stillness, she can no longer discern a difference between the living and the dead. Finally, after all the tragedies that have befallen her, Yasuko declares herself to be “nothing at all” and in bidding Eguchi goodbye as he leaves, corrects him when he promises to visit – she knows she’ll never see him again, he will return to the world of the living. He’ll forget all of this, as if it happened in a dream.

Like many of these stories, The Deserted City is filled with the detached melancholy of the older man looking back at the young one. Eguchi says this incident taught him to expect tragedy from the very beginning of things though he also claimed to have forgotten all about the town and its sad stories of longing and misunderstandings, romantic and otherwise. Working with ATG here Obayashi opts for a nostalgic 4:3 frame and a moderately warm colour palate which echoes both the slightly idealised atmosphere of the idyllic waterside village and its nature as a place which exists solely in memory, shaded in tones of nostalgia but also of regret. Much more conventional than some of Obayashi’s other work, The Deserted City is a perfect blend of European romanticism, melodrama and slight gothic undertones which, though a little low on impact, is a perfect synthesis of his themes up to this point.


Unsubbed trailer: