Warning: this review may contain spoilers
Emotions overcame reason, regrets overcame motivation. Those were the first words that popped into my mind (after wiping the tears off my face) when I finished watching 5 Centimeters per Second. The director, Makoto Shinkai, is most famous for his latest film Your Name. 5 Centimeters per Second is the third Shinkai film I have seen and it was something special; I can’t really put into words how much impact it had on me. Though underrated, it is a masterpiece that shouldn’t be ignored.
5 Centimeters per Second is a romantic drama that follows the path of Takaki Tohno and Akari Shinohara. The story unfolds in 3 episodes set at different points in their lives: a (what seemed to be) fateful meeting and an inseparable friendship turns into genuine love. A cruel and out of their control separation, led to a wish and a promise that couldn’t be kept. Thus, this event was the cause of a life full of regrets and unbearable loneliness.
The first episode takes us through Takaki’s perspective and his thoughts about his relationship with Akari, who recently transferred to Takaki’s elementary school in Tokyo. Sharing similar circumstances, they become close friends, and in time, inseparable. However, before their graduation, Akari announces that she has to move away. Less than a year later, Takaki also has to move away with his family, their distance growing further. With not much time left, they decide to meet up.
The day of the meeting was something else. You could feel the excitement and nervousness as Takaki was on the train on his way to meet her. The snowy weather caused some delays and he loses the letter he wanted to give her. When they meet, the feelings they shared were unforgettable: heart-warming but painful, as they both knew that this would be their last meeting…They shared their first kiss, spent the night together side by side, and felt their final moments together with the rising sun… How hard can life be sometimes…Saying goodbye to the one you love, especially in a situation that’s out of your control, is one of the hardest things to go through, and in this case, at such a young age…Takaki boards the train home and promises to keep in contact. As the doors close, the taste of suffering and regret surges…
In the second episode, the story’s point of view shifts to a girl named Sumida Kanae, a classmate of Takaki’s at a high school in Kagoshima. Kanae’s been in love with Takaki since he transferred to her junior-high-school. Her goal has been to get closer to Takaki, and in time, to be able to express her feelings for him. The story takes a sad turn…Takaki throughout the episode is depressed and emotionless. He is always looking in the distance for something; he is passive in all his conversations with Kanae; he is writing texts to himself and he is having dreams about Akari…This guy is a lost cause…It was really frustrating to see him like this, but to be honest, it felt like he was trying to get over it by spending time with Kanae and trying to live in present, but in the end he couldn’t get over his loss. Surely, I empathize, but this is just too much…Meanwhile, Kanae continues trying her best to get close to him, waiting for him after school to walk home together, greeting him every morning…she was just so sweet…After a failed attempt to confess her feelings, she finally understands that she can’t be the person Takaki truly desires and make the decision not to tell him how she feels…Kanae’s monologue at the end of the episode was very sad. She talked about how kind Takaki was to her and that she can’t be what he truly wants but she will always helplessly love him. Then she cried herself to sleep…At that moment, my heart broke into pieces…poor Kanae…
The third and last episode (the shortest one: 10 minutes or so) answered most of my questions but still made me wonder about a few things…The story follows Takaki and Akari. Several years have passed since high school. Takaki is now a grown-up, has a full-time job and a girlfriend, but the sadness of events prior still lingers on. Akari, on the other hand, is planning her marriage. During one scene she is going through some of her old stuff and finds the letter she never managed to give to Takaki, and reminisces that fateful night. I was happy for her, since she seemed to have managed to move on with her life. Takaki on the other hand, just gave up. After his current girlfriend broke up with him, he was unable to deal with his feelings; sadness and loneliness took a hold in his heart and after reaching his limit he quit his job…It is tragic how things turned out for him. It was really a sad moment…In the scene when Takaki and Akari begin the dual narration and the ending soundtrack started, both recalling a dream from that fateful night they had together, tears started to burst out from my eyes. It was something else. It was nostalgic, heart-warming, and sad, as they pass each other on the same place when they were kids. where they made their promise that one day they would see the cherry blossoms again together.
Themes and Trivia
Unlike most of Makoto Shinkai’s works, he said that this film won’t include any science fiction or fantasy elements. Instead, it was an attempt to present the real world from a different perspective, and give us a realistic view of the hardships and struggles life can present us: space, time, people, love. The title 5 Centimeters per Second comes from the speed at which cherry blossom petals fall, ‘petals’ being a metaphorical representation of humans. Even if we start together, most of us will slowly, but eventually, take our own path.
The full-length film was released on 3 March 2007. A novel adaptation came shortly after, written by Makoto Shinkai (which was his first novel) and released on 16 November 2007. Almost four years later another version of the novel, 5 Centimeters per Second: One more side (in which we, at last, see Akari’s perspective), was released on 20 May 2011 by the author Shinta Kanou, who also wrote the novels from previous Shinkai’s works: Voice of a Distant Star, The Place Promised in Our Early Days. A manga adaptation of the film, illustrated by manga artist Yukiko Seike, was released in July 2010.
The film won the Lancia Platinum Grand Prize at the Future Film Festival for the best movie in animation or special effects. It won the Award for Best Animated Feature Film at the 2007 Asia Pacific Screen Awards.
The production and storytelling are splendid and depict an very realistic situation that almost anyone could empathize with. It avoids many typical anime romance tropes like ridiculous visual gags or funny voices. The film has rich context and metaphors. However, I didn’t particularly like Takaki, because although I understand it’s not easy to overcome a separation that’s beyond your control, but he got on my nerves. He was very stubborn in refusing to deal with his emotions. In the second and third act, he’s totally lifeless (really, he’s like a dead fish), but I can at least sympathize with him. I didn’t like the characters’ facial expressions very much but the voice acting, environment, and animation was mind-blowing. Although the ending is controversial and may leave you unsatisfied, it was Shinkai’s decision to not give us a clear ending because a resolution was never the point of the movie…’moving on from the past, living in the present’ is the most accurate description for me.
Art and Music
Like for all of Shinkai’s works, Comix Wave handled the animation. The background and environment art are extraordinary (some scenes I dare say were unforgettable) and the precise details and the coloring in each scene are set perfectly and dictate the mood. The story goes from somewhat heart-warming to almost mournful and depressing and the art and music play a very important role in setting the mood. I’d say it’s a movie that you simply must watch, even if just for its background themes and animation.
The music and soundtrack composed by Tenmon, who has worked in most of Shinkai’s films. A classic mix of piano and violin arrangements (mostly) is the main background music and is delightful to listen to.
Highs & Lows
- Environment artwork
- Rich dialogue context & metaphors
- Sad & romantic story
- No comedy/ridiculous parts
- Unforgettable scenes
- Takaki’s stubbornness
- Poor Kanae…She deserved better
- Lack of Akari’s perspective
5 Centimeters per Second is a great movie. Despite the controversial ending, the story is just one of the endless outcomes life can have. Each person, each decision, each action in our lives makes a new path…Lingering in the past or having regrets is terrible…my point is, we need to treasure each moment and keep moving forward.
A friendly, final warning. Don’t watch it if you have had a recent breakup or you are having a bad day!