Time travel is and will forever be a fantasy, physicists say. But fantasies can tell us more about human longings and dreams than dull facts, can they not? Despite doubting science types, time-travel-themed films have long constituted a thriving, sub-genre in Japan, as they do elsewhere.

The latest local example, Sho Tsukikawa’s “The 100th Love With You” has none of the pseudo-science that informs the 1960 George Pal classic “The Time Machine,” which was based on the 1895 H.G. Wells novel that started the whole time-travel thing, or the 1979 Nicholas Meyer thriller “Time After Time,” which stars Malcolm McDowell as Wells himself.

Part of a “media mix” project that also includes a manga and a novel, the film instead expresses the common, eternally frustrated desire to turn back time as easily as resetting a watch, with a pathos that will moisten the eyes of all but the stone-hearted — or those fed up with Japanese dating movie conventions.

The 100th Love With You (Kimi to 100-kaime no Koi)
Run Time 118 mins
Language Japanese
Opens FEB. 4

The time master is Riku (Kentaro Sakaguchi), a tall, good-looking, effortlessly competent college student who exemplifies perfection to Aoi (single-named miwa), a classmate who has known him since childhood.

Now they are bandmates preparing for a gig at a summer festival — the band’s last, since Aoi, their lead singer, will soon leave for a year in England. Then another band member, the goofy, good-natured Naoya (Ryo Ryusei), makes an awkward declaration of love to Aoi. But she has feelings for Riku, who has already told Naoya he and Aoi are “just friends.” Another string in this ball of confusion is Rina (Erina Mano), Aoi’s straight-talking best pal, who is secretly in love with Naoya.

Just as the film is settling into a familiar if crowded romantic-drama groove, an accident happens on the day of the gig, July 31 — and Aoi finds herself back at the story’s beginning, a week earlier, as though awakening from a dream. What happened? Riku lets her in on a secret: He can reverse time. His method: a mysterious record on a seemingly ordinary turntable.

This revelation is followed by one even more momentous for Aoi: Riku tells her he is in love with her — and is determined to save her from the cruel workings of fate.

Turning back the clock, we soon see, has other benefits that will appeal to anyone who has ever wished for a do over at romance (this writer and the majority of humanity, I imagine). Now a loving couple, Aoi and Riku enjoy an idyll of youthful bliss in a seaside paradise. But July 31 rolls around again. Will Aoi’s fate change? Or will it remain the same — magic record or no?

The film is a vehicle for Miwa, a diminutive singer-songwriter whose only previous film appearance was in the 2015 drama “Maestro!” Miwa belts out her on-screen numbers with professional poise and impressive pipes, but as Aoi she appears on the chirpy, peppy, wide-eyed side, something like a shōjo manga (girls’ comic) character brought to life. As the story deepens and darkens, though, Miwa follows suit with a straight-ahead commitment.

As does Sakaguchi, a model-turned-actor who has been busily piling up film credits since his debut in the 2014 drama “Shanti Days: 365 Days of Happy Breathing” (“Shanti Days: 365-nichi, Shiawase Na Kokyu”). There is, however, a desperate side to Sakaguchi’s Riku that does not jibe with his cool-dude exterior but faithfully reflects the unbearable truth he must finally face.

“The 100th Love With You” doesn’t present that truth with a lot of subtlety. And literal-minded types can pick holes in the film’s narrative logic, which is close to the “dream” category. But it does also clearly express a truth that even physicists can get behind: In cosmic terms, we’re all here for one spin of the turntable. So enjoy the ride — warps, skips and all.

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