A Shinkai masterpiece and a work that truly perfects his craft. 5 Centimetres Per Second is a touching romance that doubles as a slice of life filled with unrequited love, growing up and regret.
5 Centimetres takes the best elements of Shinaki’s past films and combines them beautifully in an episodic film that warms the heart. Centred around the theme of cherry blossoms, this masterpiece gives you plenty of eye candy. The narrative is poetic and I genuinely cling to the lives of our three characters: Takaki Touno, Akari Shinohara and Kanae Sumida
Episode 1: Cherry Blossoms
It is the 1990’s when our story starts and it is a time before facebook, twitter, whatsapp, Line and Kakao; mobile phones weren’t prevalent, Skype didn’t exist and the internet wasn’t what it is today. So you could imagine the easiest way to communicate with others would be to meet them face to face, write letters or use your home telephone. Takaki and Akari are in their final year of elementary school and they are walking back home in the streets of their neighbourhood during spring. The cherry blossom trees are in full bloom. Akari presents a fact to Takaki
Hey ….. They say it’s 5 cm per second.
A puzzled Takaki inquires further and a young Akari lets him know it is the speed of falling cherry blossom petals. This sets up the rest of the episode as we revisit Takaki, a year later in middle school. Akari has moved to the north of Japan and Takaki has continued his education in Tokyo.
They write letters to one another and after a full year, they finally plan to meet again. Takaki provides some backstory on how himself and Akari originally became friends. Both were used to their parents moving a lot and both were victim to a poor immune system, so they spent much of their time together in the library. They pretty much thought they’d be together forever but it wasn’t long till Akari would provide Takaki with the unfortunate news, that her and her family would be moving again. This time up north… way up north.
During Takaki’s journey to meet Akari he becomes reflective over the things he wish he had told her.
Agreeing to meet Akari at 7, their meeting is delayed due to delays on the train he has his journey on. He doesn’t reach his destination until 10. Akari and Takaki are surprised to see one another, both had thought one had given up on the other.
When Akari looks up to see Takaki, this is really the most poignant moment in the entire film and is also my favourite scene. The tears that trickle down her face as she clenches his coat and the quietness that fills the space between the two has purpose and you are caught up in their emotions as best friends who haven’t seen each other in awhile and as potential lovers who are just on the tip of starting a relationship. When they begin to eat together; the setting is isolated to a boiler and their seats with everything else fading into the darkness, this really draws focus on this precious moment and this scene is much better portrayed than the train scene we got in The Place Promised In Our Early Days.
Silence is difficult to master in film especially in animation. If the silence comes at the wrong time or the duration of it is too short or too long, a touching or even a relatable moment can become awkward. However, the silence between Takaki and Akari worked out so well, and even for the kiss scene, you felt their nervousness and anticipated this moment. The framing and silence produced the right amount of tension that communicates the feelings of the characters clearly. It is the spring of love for these two but the representation of winter was a great juxtaposition in letting the viewer know that unfortunately this will be a love cut short. As Akari said in her letter she had hoped originally “Spring would come with Takaki” however spring was late.
Akari holds back on giving Takaki her letter and Takaki had his blown away by the wind. Both are left never really saying what they feel. Takaki leaves with a heaviness of wanting to protect Akari.
Episode 2: Cosmonaut
Takaki has moved south of Japanand is now in high school, he is quite popular and part of the archery club. Kanae Sumida, a classmate to Takaki has had a crush on him since she can remember and, we learn of her habit of waiting for Takaki by their parked mopeds.
Through the eyes of Kanae, we see how Takaki has held on all this time to his unrequited love for Akari. Through several misunderstandings, we are led to believe he has continued to keep in contact with Akari, but it is soon revealed that all this time he sends text messages to no one; only ever using his phone as a means to jot down his thoughts.
Takaki has these dreams of a faceless woman he feels at peace with, and his regrets manifest into his habit of sending text messages to no one; He is unable to move on from his feelings for Akari and desperately clings to his past.
Kanae, notices his longing for something or someone else and comes to the realisation that she can’t offer Takaki what he is yearning for.
I felt like cosmonaut was the saddest episode out of the three, because it is riddled with disappointment and the theme of being unable to reach “the other”.
While the imagery of the rocket being sent into space should have been a moment to encourage either one of the two, instead it emphasises the feeling of separation and the lonely trajectory that their lives are going in. Harping on the fact, what we sometimes hope for won’t always have a chance to be.
But despite this message what frustrates me the most about the episode is just how similar Takaki and Kanae were in regards to their needs.Yet I admire Kanae at the same time for realising soon enough that Takaki wasn’t about to look at her the way she wanted him to and as a result avoided even more heartache; Despite the great set up Kanae had to confess her feelings for Takaki
Cosmonaut upon viewing can seem like the most boring episode out of the three, but I would like to argue, it is the episode that requires the most attention. It speaks the loudest about unrequited love and longing, and it plays around with perspective; Whilst introducing some beautiful settings and visuals, and like that summer is over and we get into autumn.
Episode 3: 5 Cm Per Second
Episode 3 is the shortest out of the three episodes and really wraps up our story in a nice little bow.
Takaki, now an adult notices the falling sakura petals, and the story goes back a few months to that winter. Takaki has just been dumped from a relationship of 3 years and he has become a smoking zombie who quit his job and lives his everyday just getting by. His regrets have taken a toll on his life, hindering his ambitions, relationships, habits and work. This episode really gives us a moral of the story on the fate of those who hold onto their “Should have, Could have, Would Haves”.
We get a glimpse into an adult Akari’s life. She has completely moved on and is engaged but as the audience, we still get the satisfaction of her take on events. She had held back on giving Takaki her letter and sincerely hoped he was living his life well. On her way to Tokyo she is reminiscent of the time she met up with Takaki. The two have moved back to Tokyo. Alari moving back due to her fiancé being from Tokyo and Takaki moving back in hopes to meet Akari again.
Via montage we learn that Akari, stopped sending him letters out of awkwardness from thinking that maybe he had completely moved on, but he was always waiting for her letters. She too kept a look out for him.
One spring afternoon, crossing a familiar railway crossing, both walk past someone familiar. They turn back to catch a second glimpse but a passing train cuts their view. Takaki stays to see if that person is still there, only to see that she has already left. With this Takaki lets go of his regrets and feelings and finally finds the strength to move on himself.
Animation and Design
The animation was so well done, it brought tears to my eyes. No awkward movements, no unnecessary actions and it was all paired with a design that continues to be the highlight of any Shinkai production.
There are an array of colours that spark the screen, and there is a natural feel to all the seasons and their qualities, from the bitter cold of winter, to the washes of pink that appear for spring. The choice of palette is amazing and well thought out.
The character designs while simple, fit in well with their surroundings. It reminds me of a nugget of wisdom from a comic artist who said if you have detailed backgrounds keep the characters simple and if you have simple backgrounds you can add more detail to your characters. You never want to have everything detailed, but you need to have contrast in order to draw the right attention to a composition or in this case a shot. Shinkai proves that this does indeed work.
Once more Tenma collaborates with Shinkai on this production and the music finally felt like it had a home, the score feels purposeful and we have just the right amount of it at the right times. But I have to say the star of the show was the credit song “One More Time, One more Chance” by Masatoshi Yamazaki. Never has there been a song that wasn’t written for a film that still fitted and addressed the storyline so well, as this ballad.
It is a song that really packs a punch and paired with the montage at the end, you as the viewer are in that moment filled with the sadness that Takaki has been feeling all this time. All your emotions are drummed up for this moment to then come to a natural release at the final guitar strum. If a film was written around a song, then truly 5 Cm fits the bill.
The characters are relatable, I want to care about them and Thank God, this time around I am allowed to care about them. Their stories are very real and incredibly touching. In an hour it addresses familiar and important themes that are so often overlooked or mishandled, yet an animated production pulls it off to a great success, by even giving us a very down to earth ending that is a reality for many. 5 Cm is really a testament to the genius mind and courage of Makoto Shinkai.
I could completely relate to the themes addressed in the film, mostly of longing and disappointment. I remember the feeling of being unable to say goodbye to my best friend back in primary school and that feeling bothered me well into my teenage years until I finally reconnected to them via Facebook (of course). You don’t have to be an anime fan to get this film, you don’t even have to be super into animation to be touched by it. It tells a story and it tells it really well with visuals that make it hard to ignore. 5cm per second shows the power of regret and the effects of a wish come true. It started with a simple desire to see the cherry blossoms sometime together again, but in regards to their relationship they were stuck in a winter that never seemed to end. Takaki and Akari were star crossed lovers, destined to meet in passing and their reality like many of us viewing, will be the eventual drifting away from those we thought would never leave our sides.
If there is one thing I hope you get from this review reader, would be what can be achieved if you don’t give up and continue to improve your work. 5 Centimetres Per Second for me stands as the best of Shinkai’s work, and hits all the right notes: in its music, animation, characters and storytelling. It has been 9 years since its release and this film simply has not aged. I can not recommend 5 Centimetres Per Second enough. It is a MUST watch whether you are an animation fan or not!