5 Centimeters Per Second (2007) | The Films of Makoto Shinkai
Japanese HD Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wdM7athAem0
Everything about 5 Centimeters Per Second is visually, emotionally, spiritually, and honestly… beautiful. In one of the few genuine moments I can recall, I felt truly connected with the relationship and emotional struggles that these characters were going through. Every waking moment of their lives is played out like a delicately crafted love-poem, where everything seems so close, and yet so far apart. Their love is like fire. Their depression is like a heavy rug, dousing the fire out. Their longing is a constant strain, pulling from everywhere, but always towards the same place. I don’t know if I’ve ever really felt all of these things myself, but learning to understand them in a movie like this was pure exhilaration.
I’ve only realized, quite recently in fact, how meaningful and rewarding it is to feel for and to feel with the characters in a film or series. I used to be afraid of letting myself melt into a story, or afraid to watch certain films because I knew how they would affect me. But because I have come to understand how rewarding these feelings are, especially when I don’t get to feel them that often, I’ve rediscovered things: like what it truly means to experience certain Disney films, or the early works of Don Bluth.
This is what film is all about. It’s a precious gift bestowed upon the less fortunate of us who don’t always get to have adventures, or to go to far off countries, or to have summer flings with our high-school sweet-heart. And if you aren’t already appreciating this precious by-product of cinema, then I highly encourage you to start now.
5 Centimeters Per Second is Director, Makoto Shinkai’s third film (released in 2007); and is once again a tale of adolescent romance between young teenagers. This film is decidedly more grounded in reality than the previous two: where Voices of a Distant Star was a story of a boy and a girl texting across space as the girl went off to fight in an intergalactic war; and The Place Promised in Our Early Days was the story of two boys building a plane to reach a mysterious tower, while a young female friend of their’s was mentally connected to that tower; 5 Centimeters… is an anthology piece of three shorter films, presenting three different moments in the same boy’s life. There isn’t anything super-natural or sci-fi related this time.
The three shorts are all presented in inner-monologue and in a poetic dialogue format: meaning that everything said is carefully worded so as to give us the most concrete understanding of the character’s feelings. It is often so rightly said that films should show, don’t tell. But in this case, I don’t think the inner-monologues take away from the impact that the film would have otherwise. In fact, I think they greatly add to it. I know, without question, that I would not have felt half the things that I did if the film did not have that inner-monologue.
(ATTENTION: SPOILERS Ahead!)
The first short, entitled “Cherry Blossom,” follows two young lovers, named Takaki Tono and Akari Shinohara; as they go from elementary school as good friends, to becoming best friends, eventually moving away to different schools but remaining in close touch, to finally deciding to meet each other again one snowy night in late fall.
Before deciding to meet up, however, they constantly send hand-written messages to each other over the summer. Each message takes a while to arrive, which makes their longing for each other slowly grow over time. Takaki decides to write Akari a special note, which he wants to give to her in person when they meet again at the train-station. The two of them agree on which routes Takaki will take to make it to where Akari lives, the plan being that he will arrive at 7:00pm. But because of the heavy snow-fall, the trains get progressively delayed, until finally he gets there just after 10:00pm. When he gets there, he feels ill, he feels ashamed, and somewhat scared that he might have let down Akari. But low and behold, he finds her still sitting there near a small furnace, waiting patiently for him to arrive.
After a heart-felt reunion, they talk and eat for a while at the small train-station until the station closes. After which they make their way outside towards a large cherry tree, which has lost all of its blossoms for the winter. And at that moment, they can no longer hold back their affection, and they hold each other in a kiss.
The two of them know that they could never be together forever, their lives were just too far apart for it to work. But for this one night, at this one place, they felt like they could never separate.
The second story, entitled “Cosmonaut,” is told from a different perspective, where instead of listening to the thoughts of Takaki, we listen to the thoughts of another girl who has fallen deeply in love with him. This short takes place about 3-5 years after the events of the first story, where Takaki is now grown-up and in high-school, not sure where he wants to go in life. It seems as if he’s still reminiscing about Akari and if he will ever see her again. But it seems as if their connection has faded as of late. The new girl here, though, named Kanae Sumida; has been infatuated with Takaki since he arrived at her high-school a few years back. She’s talked to him and has been acquaintances with him all that time, but has never had the strength to express her feelings. The rest of the short follows her as she both struggles to succeed in surfing a wave, and struggles to confess her love to Takaki.
During the short, we watch the two ride with each other on their scooters as Takaki takes Kanae home; we see them buy a few drinks from a convenience store, and we see them meet up a few different nights: mostly shooting the breeze. It isn’t until Kanae realizes how close both of them are to High-school graduation that she fears if she doesn’t tell him now, she’ll never have a chance to. At one point, a large truck comes by hauling a container with a deep-space probe inside, gearing up to be launched from the Tanegashima Space Center in a few days. On the night that Kanae can no longer her herself back, the rocket carrying the probe flies up into space, creating a similar stalk of white smoke that may be mirroring the white tower seen in The Place Promised in Our Early Days. Kanae then suddenly realizes… that Takaki doesn’t really see her when they talk to each other, or when he’s nice and considerate to her. Rather, he’s always looking past her, as if he’s longing for something or someone else far beyond his reach.
And in that moment, Kanae makes the decision not to tell Takaki her feelings. She knows she may never be able to forget him, but she knows it’s the right thing.
The third short, which is itself entitled ”5 Centimeters Per Second,” is a little bizarre: in that it starts out like all of the others, with scenes of Takaki as a grown man, out of college and living alone; but it then transitions into a music video montage: showing scenes of the previous shorts and events that we only get glimpses of. It is also the shortest of the three pieces, but it tries to wrap everything up at the end.
Essentially it shows Takaki living at his apartment, somewhat cold and alone, having grown apart from his girl-friend of three years. He feels troubled, as if he’s only kidding himself about his relationship, and that his love for Akari was the truest he ever felt. We also see shots of Takaki’s girlfriend trying to text him, in an attempt to try and patch things back together. But it doesn’t seem as if it will work. We also see Akari as a grown woman, who finds an old letter she had attempted to write and give to Takaki in person, the night that they kissed at the cherry blossom tree. On their separate sides, Takaki and Akari both reminisce about that night, both explaining that they have been having a dream about themselves all those years ago.
Just before the montage hits, we see Takaki walking across a set of rail-road tracks as a train is about to come. But as he crosses, he passes by a woman who strikes a strong resemblance to Akari; and once he reaches the other side, he tries to turn around to see the woman. But the train passes by and prevents this. Then the montage begins: presenting images and clips against the song “One More Time, One More Chance” by Masayoshi Yamazaki. The song reminds me a bit of an ELO song, mixed with the opening tune to the Level-5 game, Dark Cloud 2: “Time is Changing.”
After that, though, the train that had been passing by, finally leaves; revealing that Akari is gone. Takaki then smiles to himself and decides to continue walking on.
The title of the film, while being both the title for the whole anthology and the title for the third short, is an analogy for the running theme of the three stories: which is that everything moves incredibly slow, especially when you are in love with someone. And I think that’s very apropos here. After knowing about this title’s existence since I started watching anime, I never knew what its title could mean until finally watching it. And I think no more than ever, I am mature enough to appreciate the stories and themes of Makoto Shinkai’s work.
I’ve already expressed my thoughts on his background design and cinematography in my previous reviews of his films; so I don’t have much to add here other than that they continue to improve and impress. Absolutely every shot in this film is gorgeous. And unlike many animated films, almost every background image you see is a painted rendering of an actual photograph taken around Japan. The crew physically did location scouting in order to place the film in real locations. So it is as if Makoto tries to bring out and enhance the beauty of the real Japan, in every facet of its landscape. Even the most mundane and every objects have a magical quality to them here.
Just like the last film, the character designs in 5 Centimeters Per Second is still a bit rough, and sometimes simplified: resulting in characters having no visible noses in many random shots. However the general design and detail of the characters has slightly improved since last time, especially in terms of the coloring. Everything has now been given 2 and ½ colors instead of just 2, with a small sliver of an in-between color added to the edge of every shade. And in keeping with Makoto’s semi-realistic lighting approach to these films, I think that’s a welcome addition to the visual design. We can thank Character Designer and Chief Animation Director, Takayo Nishimura for that.
Something else I found different and impressive this time around was the design of many shots with layers and levels to them. There was a greater sense of depth and space here than in the other films. Camera shots moved in Z-space. Moving background plates had greater speed and realistic paralaxing. Close-up shots of phones and watches actually felt like we were right down next to them. And shallow-focus shots seemed more accurate to real focal lengths and levels of blurriness.
Makoto Shinkai I think has proven to be another important Japanese director, beyond Hayao Miyazaki, whose works are effective and meaningful outside of Japan: along-side Satoshi Kon (Millenium Actress, Tokyo Godfathers) and Mamoru Hosoda (Summer Wars, Wolf Children). And in fact, I think Makoto Shinkai has almost done the impossible. In this film, he has taken life’s ever day struggles of love and loss, and he hasn’t tried to sugar-coat them with an allegorical story or a metaphorical twist. Instead, he has structured his tale and presented it in such a way that the normal world in and of itself can be a magical and wonderful place. Yes it may still be artistic embellishments, but they are embellishments upon things that are already there, rather than things that couldn’t possibly be there. And that is a feat that I have not seen many match in the same way.
A few bits of trivia here.
1. Makoto Shinkai made it clear that this film would not include fantasy or science-fiction elements like his previous two works. Instead it would be a more realistic representation of the world through a unique perspective. (from Wikipedia)
2. Four months to the day the English dub of the film was released in America, ADV films decided to discontinue production on more copies. Which is the sole reason why it is virtually impossible to get physical copy without shelling out a lot of money.
3. (from Wikipedia) “The film won the Lancia Platinum Grand Prize at the Future Film Festival for best movie in animation or special effects. It won the Award for Best Animated Feature Film at the 2007 Asia Pacific Screen Awards. The limited edition DVD of the film was ranked 3rd on the Tohan charts between 18–24 July 2007, while the regular edition of the film was ranked 7th. And the film was Japan’s fourth most popular Blu-ray film in 2008.”
In short, won’t be your typical cinematic fare, nor will it be your typical animated one. I often say, as many animators have; that you shouldn’t make an animated film if the story could be easily told in live-action, and vice-verse. But in this case, this film could not be as effortlessly beautiful as it is without the use of painted backdrops and animated character expressions.
So I urge you, if you have a chance to see 5 Centimeters Per Second, take it. And be prepared to cry by the end.