5 Centimeters per Second was a movie that had been on my watch list for longer than I can remember. Whenever I saw the title brought up online people had nothing but positive things to say about it; including my friends who kept on telling me to watch it as soon as I got the chance. However, no matter what I read or heard, it continued to sit on my unwatched list for ages. Honestly, I have no idea why it took me so long to watch it, but it seems to happen for a lot of series that aired before I really got into anime a few years back (Baccano, Cowboy Bebop, and Trigun are some of the many shows that I have still yet to see).
As you can guess, I had extremely high expectations going into this film, which sometimes isn’t the best thing as one often ends up expecting too much. These expectations were even further heightened when I saw the director’s, Makoto Shinkai’s, latest work early this year; a promotional video for education company Z-Kai titled ‘Cross Road.’ The animation quality in the PV was simply stunning, the music fit perfectly, and the characters seemed interesting. Oh how I wish it was a trailer for an anime series instead.
There’s is so much that I could potentially write about for this film, but in the interest of keeping this as spoiler free as possible for those who haven’t watched the movie yet and are wondering if they should, I’ll restrain myself from going too in depth.
The story follows Takaki Tohno and Akari Shinohara, two very close friends, who become torn apart when Akari and her family have to move to another region of Japan due to her family’s job. As years pass by they grow farther and farther apart, soon falling out of contact with one another. Yet, even though the distance between them continues to grow, Takaki still wonders if they’ll ever have another chance to meet each other again. The trailer for the film is below
The movie is broken into three chapters/short stories: “The Chosen Cherry Blossoms”, “Cosmonaut”, and “5 Centimeter’s per Second. These different chapters show Takagi at different stages of his life, with the first section taking place sometime around what appears to be elementary school (showing flashbacks to his childhood), and the last section taking place when Takagi is employed in the work force.
The first chapter, “The Chosen Cherry Blossoms”, demonstrates just how much the two care for each other. We learn that Takaki and Akari have always been together ever since they became classmates when they were younger, and that although they don’t admit it to one another, their feelings for each other go farther than friendship. The deepness of their feelings is demonstrated perfectly by Takagi’s struggle to reach Akari during the snowstorm. Even though the storm rages on, causing massive delays on the rail lines, Takagi pushes forward determined to see Akari. Here he faces an internal struggle; conflicted between wanting to see her and his concern about her waiting for him in the snowstorm.
The second chapter in the film takes place during Takaki’s last year of high school and focuses on Sumida, a tomboyish girl who takes a liking to Takaki and works hard to make him notice her. She constantly wonders who Takaki is messaging on his phone, wishing that it was her on the other end receiving the messages. Her battle with the waves as she learns to surf seems to be symbolic of the internal struggle she is going through as she attempts to express her feelings to Takaki. Once she conquers the wave, she feels that she’ll have enough confidence to confront Takaki and express her feelings.
In the final chapter we find that Takagi has joined the work force but he feels no purpose in his life. It appears working and drinking is all he can do in an attempt to hide the pain he feels for not expressing his feelings to Akari. Meanwhile, we also learn about what has happened in Akari’s life and that she too wishes that they could meet again.
Instead of being mainly comprised of dialogue between characters, the majority of the film is a narration by Takagi in chapters one and three, and by Sumida in chapter two. The movie is done in this fashion in order for us to understand the internal struggle of both Takaki and Sumida. In addition to this, one is able to grasp a better understanding of the characters in a shorter amount of time. Without the narration, the movie would not be able to portray its message as strongly.
In my opinion, the animation/art in this movie is incredibly unique and some of the best that I have ever seen. As an artist and aspiring animator I was freaking out over how beautiful animated everything was. There was an incredible amount of detail in the backdrops, so much so that it’s hard to distinguish them from their real life counterparts as shown below. Images on the top are from the movie, while the images on the bottom are photographs of the actual places.
The skill of the animators is further shown in both their mastery of lighting in these scenes and their use of camera techniques. Just simple things such as adding the streaks of light through the rocket exhaust or having the light from train car windows trickle along the edges of a sign made the scenes that much better. The movie also used techniques like racking the focus, which refers to changing the focus of the lens during a shot. For example, the initial focus of a shot could be the background but then the focus changes so that a wire fence in the foreground becomes visible. Clearly the individuals working on the movie had a deep understanding of how light reacts against various surfaces and of the various camera techniques employed in films.
The choice of color pallets also seems to reflect the mood of the scene; whether this was intentional or not I have no idea. For example, in Takaki’s childhood memories of him and Akari, the colors are very bright and vivid. This seems to reflect the happiness that was experienced by the two children at the time. In contrast, at the end of the film where Takaki is emotionally depressed the scenes appear to employ a lot of darker and greyer tones.
The only slightly negative note that I could make is that the animation and detail of the characters is not nearly as good as that of the backgrounds. At some points there is quite a stark contrast between the two that the character almost feels out of place. This is most notable in the first chapter, not as much in the second and third chapters.
Personally, I found the music in the movie to be absolutely beautiful; I’m sort of a sucker for piano soundtracks. The story is an emotional rollercoaster for the characters in the movie, and piano works great for expressing both the emotional highs and lows they experience. The dynamics of the keys also allow it to become very subtle if one desires, or very powerful and strong for the more emotional scenes.
For the first time, I also paid a lot of attention to the sound effects/ambient noise in the film. Perhaps it’s because the only person talking most of the time is Takaki or Sumida, and when he or she is not talking, all the film has to rely on for sound is the ambient noises. By greatly limiting the amount of times other characters speak, this also creates the sense that both Takaki and the viewer are alone in the world.
5 Centimeters per Second is a cinematic masterpiece that gives a realistic portrayal of some of the struggles many people face within their lifetime; friends drifting apart, holding in your feelings and later regretting them, realizing that your love will never be returned, etc. We can’t help but feel for these characters because we know exactly how they feel. Humans are social creatures and as a result changes in relationships probably affect us the most out of everything.
The title 5 Centimeters per Second comes from the apparent speed at which cherry blossom petals fall. Apparently the director’s notes for the film stated that the petals are meant to be “a metaphorical representation of humans, reminiscent of the slowness of life and how people often start together but slowly drift into their separate ways.” It’s kind of depressing to think about life this way and how many different people you’ll end up drifting apart from, but it’s the stark reality of life. I’ve lost contact with some people who I considered my best friends; people who I thought I’d be friends with for a significantly long time when I was younger. It makes me wonder if I’ll eventually lose contact with my current friends.
I think the greatest thing one can take from this movie is that you need to cherish every moment you get and never let any pass you by, because you’ll never know if the petals will ever drift back together and give you another chance.
Score = 10/10 A Masterpiece Worth Watching