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One of the pleasures of Netflix is finding a movie or a TV series you've never heard of, likely never would have, and finding it to be a gem. Erased (a.k.a. Bokudake ga Inai Machi), just up on Netflix this weekend, is such a series.
It's 12 episodes, 30 minutes or less each, and time travel. How could I resist? It's in Japanese, with English subtitles, and its lead character experiences what he calls "revivals," or flipping back briefly into the past, to save someone in danger. That is, until his mother is murdered, and he becomes a suspect, and then suddenly finds himself 18 years in the past, in the body of his younger self — in grade school — determined not only to save his mother in the future, but a group of girls who have been kidnapped and murdered back then, too.
Beautifully photographed, with shimmering snow scenes and rusty sunrises and even smoking factories that set the ambience, Erased is told with delicacy and depth, and excellent performances by Yûki Furukawa as 29-year-old Satoru, RiRia as 10-11-year-old Satoru, and all the other kids and adults in the series. There's no explanation given for the time travel, which makes Erased more fantasy or magical realism than science fiction, but that's just fine for this softly focused story.
Satoru's key problem, tied to stopping the murders, is figuring out which reality (he in effect creates by changing something in the past) is the reality that was meant to be. The ending provides a satisfying answer. I was able to spot the serial killer pretty early on, but since so much of the story was what Alfred Hitchcock called suspense (knowing there's a bomb ticking on a bus) not surprise (there's an unexpected explosion), identifying the serial killer worked well for me, too. Good job by director Ten Shimoyama and writer Kei Sambe. Special kudos for outstanding cinematography to Koshi Kiyokawa.
Check out Erased for a very different kind of time travel story, with lots of narrative in grade school, but a profundity that transcends age.