Nerawareta Gakuen

It's fitting that in his introduction at the world premiere of Nerawareta Gakuen (literally: School In Peril, official: Psychic School Wars), Jonathan Clements mentioned that whenever The Girl Who Leapt Through Time is remade, so too is Nerawareta Gakuen. It's easy to see why: it has the same overall genre of a campus love comedy with strands of science fiction bubbling beneath it that makes the stories so endearing. Here though the time travel is a little woolier, the story a little more meandering and the visuals a whole lot more colourful.

skirts and stained glass windows, sunsets and sad songs

Were you to take the skies of a Makoto Shinkai work and push them through a high-powered kaleidoscope, you would be some of the way towards imagining how colourful and visually arresting the entire production is. This is not to say it is universally beautiful, although there is sublime artistry in every scene, but the lack of restraint is at times wearisome, dulling the eyes. What could be better than a classroom bathed in the evening sun? One with stained glass windows! And bubbles! All lovingly rendered and fully animated.

Glibness aside, Sunrise has done an outstanding job here. The characters may be spindly and bobble-headed, but their emotiveness and constant movement is a joy to watch with one of the lead females, Natsuki, regularly cartwheeling and somersaulting around with little care for gravity. Something is always moving here and if not the characters it's the phosphorescent special effects or the gentle fluttering of cherry blossoms

Behind the coruscating aesthetic though is a story about teenagers trying to communicate with one another. The science fiction elements take a back seat until the latter third of the film which lurches from plot point to plot point, the lackadaisical opening acts lulling the audience into a false sense of pace and expectation. Make no mistake, this is a confusing mish-mash of time-travel and psychics which, like the most recent live action The Girl Who Leapt Through Time movie, demands you are not only familiar with the novella the story is based on, but also that you pay the closest of attention to every detail.

Like Shinkai though, for the most part the film is skirts and stained glass windows, sunsets and sad songs with Debussy's Clair De Lune the signature track, sure to cause initial dissonance for anyone who has seen All About Lily Chou-Chou. The standard love triangle is in full effect until a dashing transfer student throws everything into array and the children about school begin acting even more strangely than usual.

Starting with a mobile phone ban on campus then moving on to name-dropping Twitter and telepathic teenagers, how people connect with one another is the beating heart of the film. Telephones and the internet are all well and good but just get in the way of conversations, and even when people's feelings and emotions are there for the peeking, part of communication is knowing when to tell and when to refrain. Or as one of the protagonists refers to it: acting.

If there is anything to detract from this then it is the over-reliance on what have now become tropes: the violent and overbearing childhood friend, the slim and refined Japanese beauty, the ridiculously dense male lead, the mysterious transfer student. Certainly the original story may have championed these archetypes and there is enough depth and interest here to escape sloppy writing, but the reliance on Natsuki throwing things at Kenji does begin to wear. Here though the question of which pair will end up together isn't the final goal of the film and is sewn up by the end of the second act, dispensing with any outcries of “just kiss her you fool!”.

Thankfully the humour breaks what would otherwise be a melodramatic science-fiction opera with many of the gags wisely exploiting the juvenile nature of the story with acorn cannons and open zippers aplenty providing many of the guffaws.

Nerawareta Gakuen as a package then is a grab-bag of different influences. An audience for school romance will find much to like here only to be shut out in the cold by the ending (including a post-credits finale). Science fiction fans will find the lack of detail in the different time-lines and the exposition dump by one of the lead characters unsatisfying. For those without a predilection towards a genre though will find much to like here. At once funny, then confusing and labyrinthine, then bleak, finally looping back round to heartwarming. The narrative jungle of the final act will likely be the largest sticking point for many but there is a lot to love here and taken with the oversaturated and painterly visual style, the film is immense enjoyable and a great achievement.

Responses to “Nerawareta Gakuen”

Wait, there was a post-credit finale? I had walked out, thoroughly pissed off, at that point. What was in it?

And yeah, I appreciated the visuals (as I predicted, people are going to compare this to Shinkai...), but I did think the plot and storytelling at serious problems, with several characters acting repeatedly at random, contrary to their established motivations. (The protagonist's choice at the end is simply unintelligible to me.)
Spoilers for those who haven't seen the film: Natsuki and Kahori are at the cliff side when Natsuki receives a call on her mobile from a number she doesn't recognise. We then hear Kenji's voice, saying "Strange, I was told this would let her remember everything". We see him walking towards the pair with a new, foppish hairstyle, and a small cat creature (who I'm guessing we're supposed to think is Kyogouku). As Kahori sees the small cat, it transforms into the egg-timer that Kyogoku had at the start of the film. Natsuki meanwhile is crying into the phone and eventually shouts at Kenji, for him to respond with "I'm home".

I don't disagree with the plotting problems, a lot of the exposition was completely out of the blue (especially the Natsuki/Kenji bedside scene), the pivotal point being where the grandfather releases Shiro. But I didn't really need all of the minutiae of the plot to fall into order for me to enjoy the core romances. I may be in the minority there and I'm certainly not lampshading points like the grandfather keeling over, they just didn't really matter to me and I'm sure a canonical explanation will come with time.

justconfusedperson

I just watched the movie and I'm still confused on what just happened in the movie. I get the main plot, the romances, love triangles and such but what I don't get is the story with Kogyoku Kenji, and his grandfather. Or is that I'm just over thinking it? Well like I said I'm just really confused and would like someone to explain it in more detail! >.<
Did Kahori and Natsuki remember everything about what's going on with Seki and Kyogouko? Is Kyougouko the transfer student Kahori and Natsuki were talking in the ending? Or did Kyougouko returned to the moon? Did Kahori remember? Please reply to me.