Time travel murder mystery Erased is not only a hit manga in Japan but one of this season’s best anime. The new live-action movie is likewise fantastic, if you ignore its nonsensical final act.
Erased (like the anime and manga that spawned it) follows Satoru. An aspiring manga artist in his late 20s, he spends most of his time working part-time as a pizza delivery man. He also has a superpower: Whenever someone in his vicinity is in a life-or-death situation, he is pulled back in time a few minutes and given the opportunity to prevent that person’s death.
However, on the day his mother is murdered and he is framed for the crime, Satoru finds himself transported not a few minutes into the past but rather 14 years. Now in his fifth grade body, he looks to prevent his mother’s murder by stopping the fated abduction and murder of his loner classmate Hinazuki.
Erased is a film full of young child actors, which is something that can easily kill a movie. However, the child actors in Erased do a great job of measuring up to their adult counterparts. Young Satoru (Tsubasa Nakagawa) delivers such adult looks of scorn when confronting Hinazuki’s mother that it does feel like the elder actor is controlling the younger’s body. Rio Suzuki’s Hinazuki likewise forces viewers through an emotional gauntlet, believably portraying a girl who is both a strong stoic loner and an ashamed abused child.
Clocking in at just about two hours, the film does a great job of streamlining the anime’s nearly five hours of plot by focusing on three main points: Hinazuki’s story in the past, Airi’s in the present, and Satoru’s throughout the other two. All other characters in the story are largely defined by their brief interactions with these three.
Even though Satoru’s classmates, friends, and coworkers are one-note characters at best, the overall emotional core of the work remains. The only big loss from the abridgment is that the murderer’s motivation and backstory are nearly non-existent, making said murderer far less compelling in the film.
Abridgment aside, the vast majority of the film comes straight out of the source material, and is excellently performed. However, near the end, the story makes a potentially interesting change to the plot, then uses it as an excuse to drive the story straight off a cliff.
**Spoilers (for both the film and anime) Begin**
The major change in the film is that although Satoru is able to save Hinazuki, he doesn’t save the next girl in the murderer’s crosshairs. This, in turn, starts a chain of events that allows Satoru to figure out who the murderer is earlier than in the anime/manga. Despite this, things turn out similarly. But instead of being locked in a car driven into a freezing river to drown, Satoru is instead thrown from a bridge into the water.
However, just before he hits, Satoru awakens in the hospital in the present day—well almost present day. He actually awakens just after the car accident we witness at the start of the film, only with a pregnant Hinazuki at his bedside instead of Airi. (Though the identity of the father is never revealed.)
In the movie’s new final timeline, Satoru was never in a coma after his attempted murder at the river. He lived a normal life and became the manga artist he always wanted to be. Yet this begs several questions. How did he survive? Why did he never tell anyone who it was that attempted to murder him? Perhaps young Satoru lost those memories when future Satoru leaped back to his own time. But then why didn’t his mother and her detective friend catch the killer, or why didn’t the murderer finish the job and kill Satoru in the intervening years?
Another problem with this is that it breaks the established time travel rules for the series. Either Satoru jumps to the past and relives everything up until the present, altering what he can or he returns to the present at the exact moment he left. Yet this time he arrives from his 1988 jump a few days before when he left, able to use his knowledge to confront the murderer mid-kidnapping. Consistency is vital for suspension of disbelief.
The film ends with Satoru attempting to stop the murderer from committing suicide, only to get fatally stabbed in the process. Then the cut to years later reveals that though dead, his friends and family are all happy, safe from the murderer...
...Which they were anyway, if you think about it.
In Japanese, Erased is called Boku Dake Ga Inai Machi: “The Town Where I Alone Am Not There.” In the manga/anime this refers to the final timeline in which he drives the murderer from his town, allowing those he cares about to grow up safely and happily. The price for this is that he spends that same time in a coma. Yet, Satoru sees this as completely worth it. “The town where he alone is not there” is a wonderful place comparatively, much better than the town in the original timeline where he was there and the killings continued.
In the film, the title no longer applies in the same way. The town without him is one worse off because even though the murderer is caged, Satoru is dead.
Moreover, his death is a foolish one that serves no purpose. No one he knew was in any immediate danger. He knew the time and place of a kidnapping. He has cops and a district attorney on standby just out of view. There is no reason to do anything but watch the killer grab the girl, then spring the trap.
Instead of a man who sacrifices years of his life to save his friends, he is an idiot who dies for no reason after he has already won. It paints Satoru as a person who would rather confront the killer face-to-face than get justice safely. This, in turn, robs the piece of much of the emotional impact it spends hours building. It’s hard to feel bad for a total fool.
If we cut the last 20 minutes of the film and just had it end there, Erased would be an excellent film adaptation. The actors, both child and adult, gave us some great performances. The story likewise hits all the needed emotional and character beats even while cutting off all the extraneous bits.
Unfortunately though, the last 20 minutes do exist and in them the film devolves into a barely coherent mess with a distorted message. If you’re a fan of the anime or manga, by all means, watch this, because it really feels like the anime/manga come to life. Just feel free to turn it off when it starts its downward spiral.
Erased (Boku Dake Ga Inai Machi) was released in Japanese theaters on March 19, 2016. There is currently no word on a US release.