Erased (Boku Dake ga Inai Machi)

Japan (2016) Dir. Yuichiro Hirakawa

Changing the past is risky business so it is probably just as well none of us are able to do this. But if changing the past is the same as changing the future then maybe it might be worth having this bizarre ability after all. But like I said, it can be pretty messy.

It’s 2006 and 29-year old Satoru Fujinuma (Tatsuya Fujiwara) is working as a pizza delivery driver as his manga writing career is struggling. He possesses a strange gift that allows him to slip back in time a few moments and prevent disasters from happening. Unfortunately Satoru is unable to stop his mother Sachiko (Yuriko Ishida) from being stabbed, arriving as the culprit escapes, but since he has his mother’s blood on his hands, the police think Satoru is the murderer.

Suddenly Satoru slips back to 1988 when he was 10-years old at the same time a series of child murders took place in his town. One of the victims was his classmate Kayo Hinazuki (Rio Suzuki), a loner being abused by her mother Akemi (Tamae Ando) and her boyfriend. Satoru (Tsubasa Nakagawa) notes it is two days before Kayo went missing, deciding to stop her being killed.

Many people will know the anime adaptation of Erased, based on the manga Boku Dake ga Inai Machi by Kei Sanbe, and made the same year as this film. It is inevitable there would be some omissions and changes to fit a 44-chapter manga into a 12-episode anime and a 2-hour film, but whilst enough salient parts from the source material survive, to keep established fans reasonably content. Unfortunately – minor spoiler alert – this doesn’t apply to the ending which is likely to incur some grumbling.

Per the anime/manga, Satoru’s gift is known as “Revival” yet here it isn’t given a name, referred to only as “that phenomenon” but it is demonstrated almost straight away when he stops a young boy being hit by a lorry, only for Satoru to by hit a car and end up in hospital. He is visit by his colleague from the pizza restaurant, teen student Airi Katagiri (Kasumi Arimura) who becomes an ally when Satoru is forced to flee the police, getting caught up in his mess.

The catalyst for this is the unsolved murders from 1988, which Sachiko is reminded of after witnessing a young girl being lead away to a car by a stranger. The person arrested 18 years ago was a friend of Satoru’s who to this day he refuses to believe was guilty, prompting Sachiko to call an old friend about the case. It is later that night that Sachiko is murdered and when Airi allows Satoru to hide out at her apartment, it is set ablaze though she is saved.

Life in 1988 isn’t any easier for Satoru, his adult self trapped inside his 10 year-old body, but at least Sachiko is alive. Realising it is only a few days until Kayo disappears, Satoru has to befriend her and gain her confidence, which he does by inviting her to his 11th birthday party but this doesn’t change Kayo’s fate, which Satoru discovers when he returns to 2006 and discovers the date of her disappearance changed.

Quite how the Revival works isn’t explained, making it an ill thought out concept used at the convenience of the plot, since it is established it is random but just happens to occur when trouble is imminent. There is a nice touch when Satoru can’t jump back having found his ailing mother to make this seem more fateful that a benefit, but this leaves the time leaps between 2006 and 1988 less plausible than the prior few minutes.

But, they don’t call it the travel paradox for nothing but with little time to explore this, we have to accept that it happens his way, something that also hampered the anime too. Yet, details such as Kayo’s abduction date changing add to the drama and the intrigue in how Satoru is going to subvert the past to save her, though Kayo’s misery doesn’t end a she still has an abusive mother to survive.

Of the two storylines, the 1988 one is the stronger of the two, not in the least because it could easily have been the plot for a regular drama addressing the gnarly subject of child abuse and still have the same effect. There really is a lot to enjoy in seeing Satoru and his friend Kenya helping Kayo out of the doldrums as a frightened loner to a cheerful girl with potential, and the emotional interactions are infectiously touching.

As ever though, this is a story that demands to be told of an extended period and two hours is sadly insufficient, though screenwriter Noriko Goto does as much as she can to capture the essence of the prior adaptations, at least up until the questionable ending. Both Goto and director Yuichiro Hirakawa are more prolific in TV so maybe they struggle to work within the tight parameters of a film for this story, but there is more to like than dislike.

37 year-old Tatsuya Fujiwara has barely aged since his debut in 2000, still able to play younger characters like Satoru, attacking the role with his usual subtle style. Perky Kasumi Arimura plays another perky teen in Airi but both are upstaged by the debuting youngsters, Tsubasa Nakagawa, who carries off the adult nuances of Satoru inside the child’s body, and cute as a button Rio Suzuki, a future weepy child star I’m sure.

Coming out in cinemas the same week as the anime ended put a lot of pressure on this adaptation of Erased, and whilst both deviate from the manga, this film is the worst offender. It’s better than it sounds until the last act which is usually where a film needs to hit the bullseye, so fans of the anime or manga are advised to approach this with caution.