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August 24, 2010

Girl of Time

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Toki o kakeru shojo/The Little Girl who Conquered Time
Nobuhiko Obayashi - 1983
IVL Region 3 DVD

Like the other films I have seen to date by Nobuhiko Obayashi, Girl of Time centers on an adolescent girl who gets lost in a world of cheap special effects. It is a charming movie, really, and the debut of then teen star Tomoyo Harada. What I've been finding interesting also about some of the Japanese films I have come across is that there have been several films about high school girls that genuinely respect the characters. There is none of the smarminess that seems almost obligatory in too many films that view young women as nothing more than exploitable raging hormones. Overlooking the fact that the story doesn't entirely make sense, Girl of Time shows the sweeter side of the filmmaker still best known for Hausu.

Obayashi takes some of his visual queues from The Wizard of Oz. The opening scene is in black and white, in academy ratio, slowly turning to color and wide screen in the following scene. When color is introduced, it is done slowly, a yellow background seen through a train window, a small object, a pink face among the monochrome kids. The effect is as if the film was hand tinted. The girl of the title, Kazuko, even has a poster from Victor Fleming's film.

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Cleaning the science lab in her high school, Kazuko accidentally knock over a beaker with some kind of overpowering chemical. Discovered by her two best friends, Goro and Kazuo, Kazuko finds herself increasingly in situations where she is suddenly in events that haven't happened yet. The time shifting is the least interesting aspect of the story. What is of interest to Obayashi is the sense of wonder of the world. Kazuko also tries to navigate her way through being a young woman with loyalties to the two young men in her life, the practical, down to earth Goro, and the tall, occasionally poetic, Kazuo. This much is made clear in the opening scene when Kazuko gazes on the night sky, and Goro explained the phenomenon of stars in scientific terms. When Kazuko turns around to join her friends who are night skiing, she bumps into Kazuo, well over a head taller than the petite Kazuko.

Obayashi's film was the first feature of several versions of the novel. Setting aside the fantasy aspects, the story is more symbolically about a young woman's sense of confusion about herself. Kazuko constantly asks Goro and Kazuo if they think she is strange. The film could be said to be about an adolescent's sense of unease, physically and emotionally. Kazuko is less interested in the ability to travel through time than she is to feel "normal", of her place and time. At the same time, Kazuko is conflicted about pursuing an impossible, ideal love, one that she mentions at the beginning of the film, a longing for a prince who would emerge from the stars.

The film ends amusingly enough with a musical number, Tomoyo Harada singing the title song in scenes that virtually recap the entire story. There is one scene where Obayashi gets to play with film technique, with simultaneous fast cutting and overlapping images. The one shot that makes the most impact, is a dolly zoom when Kazuo disappears from Kazuko's life. That Obayashi used a shot first associated with Alfred Hitchcock and Vertigo is quite fitting for a story about love lost and found, false memories, and overwhelmingly real heartbreak.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at August 24, 2010 12:50 AM