This week we are moving on to a different director of anime movies, and frankly another genius: Makoto Shinkai. 5 Centimeters per Second is his third film, and the first one I considered worth purchasing. I will also be looking at Journey to Agartha, Garden of Words and of course arguably the most successful anime of all time, Your Name, all directed by Shinkai. I’m not a completist, so that’s far from being his full catalogue, but it’s a selection of what I consider to be the best and most interesting work from Shinkai.
5 Centimeters per Second is a curious little film, with a run time of just one hour, and divided into three chapters, which focus on the central male character in different points in his life. The whole thing is animated beautifully. I mean, really, really, beautifully. It is actually what drew me to the film rather than the story itself, which is a relatively standard long-distance relationship collapse, with a bittersweet ending.
The first chapter of the film, and the best by a mile, is subtitled Cherry Blossoms, and features 13-year-old Takaki Tono travelling by train to meet up with his girlfriend, who has moved away. Interspersed with flashbacks to their time together, it is for the most part a harrowing tale of nature’s power to spoil people’s plans. If you suffer with anxiety you might find this tough to watch. Although Takaki does eventually reach his goal and share a kiss with his beloved Akari, he senses that their destiny does not lie together.
The second chapter is also enjoyable, and told from the perspective of Kanae Sumida, another girl who has fallen for Takaki. Unfortunately he is still fixated on his long distance relationship and doesn’t notice her feelings for him, while she struggles to tell him and ultimately realises it would be pointless. One thing to look out for: the dub is excellent, but you really need the subtitles on as well during this chapter, or you will miss out on Takaki anguishing over what to say to Akari, while Kanae anguishes over what to say to Takaki, and it’s a shame to miss out on that parallel.
I wasn’t too impressed with the final short chapter. Despite being a tour de force of direction, telling the story of Takaki’s relationship collapse and how he comes to terms and decides to move on with his life, in a montage set to music, I am not a big fan of unhappy endings. This was on the bitter end of the bittersweet scale, and feels like the film just fizzling out.
So I wouldn’t classify this as essential viewing, but neither would I want to have missed out on seeing it. Thematically it is a rich experience. The title refers to the speed at which cherry blossom petals fall, and this is later linked with the speed of a rocket heading off for the outer reaches of the solar system. That in turn is a metaphor for how Takaki is moving out of Kanae’s reach, interrupting her attempts to confess her love to him.
A theme I mentioned when looking at Wolf Children a couple of weeks ago is also important here: the weather as a metaphor for events in people’s lives. Snow in particular is used to symbolise the dying days of Takaki’s relationships, and spring comes as he moves forward with his life. The film also really brings home the benefit of some modern technology. If you think travelling long distances with the weather closing in on you is an anxiety-inducing idea, imagine how it felt without a mobile phone. And if you think maintaining a long distance relationship is challenging, imagine how it was when communication was dependent on writing a letter and sending it. When I say “imagine it”, many readers will of course be in the same position as myself: “remember it”.
I’ll leave you with a trailer. There are a few options, but I like this one because it’s short and sweet and focusses on the visuals. RP