5 Centimeters Per Second (2007, rated U) was an animated movie written, produced and directed by Makoto Shinkai (The Place Promised in Our Early Days, 2004) comprising of three segments to tell the story. This has been a difficult review to write, I’ve cut/pasted bits all over, re-worded, deleted, re-written etc; at times I doubted my diction was up to par to do it justice.
Episode 1 – ‘The Chosen Cherry Blossoms’
Life is a series of moments strung together, and I think about you.
Every moment is an eternity, will it always feel this way?
A young boy and girl say goodbye after watching cherry blossoms fall and float in the breeze, the girl is moving away. Goodbyes are hard and she crosses the railway tracks before him whilst he’s stuck behind the barrier, she says she hopes she’ll get to see the cherry blossoms with him again as they fall, at 5 centimetres per second. A train separates them as passengers go on their journeys unaware of the emotional exchange they’re intersecting.
The first six minutes follow the boy’s life in school after she’s gone and is narrated by her reading letters she’s written to him. It’s then his turn to narrate from his point of view, he’s older now but the deep bond he shared with the girl when they were 13 years old still remains. His family is going to move and he’ll be even further away from her so they decide to see each other one last time before the distance gets too hard. He embarks on the train journey in the midst of a snow storm but to what end? To get some answers regarding how they feel, is it the end, are they finally saying goodbye or will it confirm something else?
Episode 2 – ‘Cosmonaut’
Long distance relationships are hard – but there can be distance even when you’re near.
Life goes on?
He is in the new school and has taken up archery, he’s doing well seems focused and has also caught the eye and young heart of a girl whose hobby is surfing. Much of this segment features her narration; she feels like his puppy and has all the hallmarks of young, unvoiced and unreciprocated love – more of a crush/infatuation. They get on well but he doesn’t see her ‘that way’ and she knows that he’s looking past her at something or someone she can’t and indeed shouldn’t compete with.
It’s time to think about university and both of them are unsure about what they want to do with their lives though he knows he will returning to Tokyo, she sees him writing messages on his phone his phone quite often and he wonders when he started writing unsent texts.
They’re stopped mid-path by a lorry, but unlike in Episode 1 both characters are on the same side, and the NAS(D)A lorry is travelling at 5 kilometres per hour to the launch facility nearby.
Episode 3 – ‘5 Centimeters per Second’
Cherry blossoms, snowflakes.
Yes it does, no it doesn’t.
Back in Tokyo cherry blossoms (the first one looking like a heart) fly through his window, in the moment it takes for the curtains to billow he’s no longer in the room but out to the tree and fork in the road and then at the train tracks where he was in the beginning. A fated meeting?
The main characters are older now by at least three years and this segment is very dark.
There’s something so slow yet well paced about this movie and so touching/reaching that it pulls you in and immerses you in a sort of sad nostalgia, I think anyone whose had a long distance relationship that didn’t work out will understand it even more. It falls into the ‘slice of life’ genre so it’s a simple, straightforward story but highlights all the poignancy of everyday life that we easily take for granted or on the flipside get too involved with and caught up in. It’s very much a journey or a reminiscence of smaller journeys making up the life story of the two main characters Takaki (boy) and Akari (girl) and to a smaller extent Kanae the ‘other girl’ (one of) who has a crush on Takaki.
Every day most of us we go through the motions of a routine but when do we stop noticing the detail of the things around us?
Episode 1 was literally like having your eyes opened to your own world around you (if you’ve lived in a city or big enough town) with the breathtaking use of photographic imagery for everyday objects and sometimes places blurred in with more obvious digital drawing, it’s not a case of cartoonish characters on a realistic background but a flow of ‘real’ and surreal, the characters would be wearing a realistic watch, sitting on highly glossy chairs but the blackboard would look drawn and then all the scenes are highly contrasted with light and dark emphasizing brightness from the sun or fluorescent lights and the shadows cast.
The episode opens with a traditional Japanese scene with a cherry blossom though the tree sits in a fork in a road, the backgrounds are lush and beautifully drawn yet punctuated with the stark modern school and then train station. The film as a whole takes the opposite stance of the norm, instead of showing the audience what’s happening by playing out scenes it cuts from picture to picture with one or a few representing a whole scene and is mostly narrated by the inner voice (in the mind) of the protagonists – that allows for the plot to move as we’re shown snippets of one scene after another, like flashbacks and yet it’s not like watching a slideshow – too much life has been breathed in for that. The characters and most importantly their memories and feelings are real. I haven’t seen this technique used in many films or series and where I have it’s usually a voice over the film moving at regular or speeded up pace but here the team behind this have done something different – they’ve managed to show the characters living and critiquing their memories and current situation whilst almost putting the audience in their place at times. They’ve done this by focusing on background images and highlighting them.
When Takaki goes on the journey to meet Akari we go through every moment with him and the artistic visual style broadens to include scale – we see things from his perspective, the platform, pylons, the inside of the railway carriage, the jarring of the steps/connections in between carriage as the train moves – everything is so real and not seen as insignificant, these are things we see and mentally process continually but highlighting them here forces us to stop, slow down and take in the amount of time we are spending (usually in a hurry). Other moments we see the scene from above looking down, or down looking up and most importantly for me were the times when the ‘camera’/’lens’ angle moves from close up suddenly backwards taking in the rest of the scene or vice versa along with Takaki’s words or feelings showing us how big or how small his is/we are in the bigger picture. For example he/we can be alone so full of feeling and then bam the picture zooms out to show a large, seemingly empty space not devoid of objects or cold, wind, snow but of other human life and yet full of his pain.
The journey is long and hard; full of delays, uncertain stops, fear, anxiety, hunger, each leg means compounded time lost – anyone whose travelled at Xmas will probably have been through something similar though in Takaki’s case he isn’t packed in with other stressed commuters. He’s in his own mental world with his body acting as a satellite in this one, such as when you pull the covers over your head, inhabit a cubicle, a tent or flat and yet still manage to hold the illusion of privacy and your own space. This story shows the unification of desolate dimensions through a single person, reaching out.
His voice really adds to the visual techniques, unlike Akari’s whose vocals I found too high and squeaky, his are low, gentle and husky – he never rushes his words and they’re haunted with a heaviness as if each sentence is a labour and he’s tired; he just physically, emotionally, metaphysically wants to reach Akari and is taking one frustrating step at a time. His soft, sad voice matches the movement of the film perfectly and keeps it intimate, we don’t know if he’s talking to himself or the audience but he is close to us, we can almost feel his breath as his voice reaches our ears.
Will he reach that light in the dark he yearns for, that warmth… And then what? After such great expectations can there only be an anti-climax?
Episode 2 – In this episode we are met by Makoto Shinkai’s (director) love of grand and humbling depictions of the sky and the cosmic space beyond, often above water which has always had portal and space connotations. They’re just short of being overwhelming as we’re not seeing them in first person but they are literally works of art, like landscapes of the heavens on film instead of on canvas or even on the sky itself with luminescent designs, varied clouds and mirror like perspectives. We can and do already cause suitable conditions to use the air as a projection screen and given that we can’t see out of our atmosphere if its cloudy and then it’s filtered by ‘Blue’ colour in the day, Shinkai’s versions seem to have more of a ‘truth’ to them in his ability to separate and merge what we consider the sky to be/look like with what’s outside the barrier of our vision and sensory abilities and he seems to point it out by often displaying the sky as fractioned/divided.
The sky and its focus on sunrises and sunsets fits in well with the ‘Cosmonaut’ title of this segment from an interesting triquetra on the school they go to, to the Tanegashima Space Center nearby and a poster in a grocery shop they visit whose brand is ‘ADEOS’ and slogan ‘Watching over the Earth from Space’. Where Episode 1 reached out via trains towards a difficult but achievable goal, this one makes use of roads (Takaki and Kanae ride scooters to/from school) and is reaching our further to something perhaps out of reach or in the realms of fantasy – is it symbolic of Kanae’s feelings and/or Takaki’s and Akari’s drifting apart? Interestingly enough the launch facility nearby is supposedly sending a rocket to the centre of the galaxy – our iconic ‘source’ – how does that fit in with the plot?
Episode 3 – there’s not much to say about this part, partially because the other 2 are 3x as long but also because this is where it ends or doesn’t and is something that the viewer really needs to see for themselves. I will say that I found the moment where he’s in a lift dropping his keys was interesting symbolically but also the whole segment reminds me of The Age of Innocence (Edith Wharton’s novel, 1920).
All relationships take effort but long distance has its own characteristics; people can often get to know each other at a much deeper level because they have to talk, to describe their thoughts and feelings at length and like when reading a book the person on each side fills in the blanks/the atmosphere as there is little to no body language yet with all the time talking and imagination they can feel closer to you than people in your physical vicinity. It’s just as possible to feel euphoria or depression with or because of someone you’ve never or rarely met in body to those you’re around regularly, particularly if you’re a vivid or poetic personality.
What happens if you’re emotionally invested both in body and mind, physical and virtual/long distance?
This film, including Episode 2, shows what can happen when you don’t communicate or don’t communicate enough. Another possibility could have been what can happen if you sacrifice one dimension for the other i.e. the far away for a closer relationship or vice versa, or even worse juggle both. It didn’t go there, it didn’t ask any questions, it just charted a story as it/that happened. Should Takaki and Akari have tried harder?.. Fear is a difficult thing, hope is a type of fear too and it can ultimately help or hinder us but either way it generally means a long, arduous wait/struggle.
At approx 1 hour in length, Episode 1 lasts approx 25min; it sets the scene and weighs in heavily on our consciousness yet ends in a way that’s just right to flow into Episode 2 which is approx 23min and the final episode approx 8min with the rest being a recap sequence and credits. I’d say that sequence wasn’t necessary even though it shows us a few angles from moments we didn’t see earlier mixed in with ones we did but ultimately it says to me they didn’t know how to end the story. Other than that the episodic style really worked, it was lightly done with a beginning and ending screen in between sections, it was quick but not quick enough to blink and miss it yet effective in its simple Black on White and then inverted White text on Black screen to make its point, almost seamlessly adding a seam between the stream of consciousness that spanned a few years. Turning the page on one chapter and moving to another.
I found the voice acting to be mostly appealing though I’ve always disliked the vocals of the actress used for Akari and from previous reviews readers will recall that I dislike anime in which the actors are bigger than their characters. There isn’t so much a musical score as there are sound effects such as cicadas, birds and traffic; had there been background music it might have clashed with the narration and just been too much with the already heady visuals.
If you’re ‘not in the mood’ the film could easily be labelled as perhaps too brooding and naval gazing however it doesn’t fit into the ‘teen angst’ movie stereotype, it’s far too bleak and at times kind and uplifting for that; bonds like this can happen to anybody at any time of their life, could also be a ‘phase’ that is ‘grown out of’ but then for some people time is just an arbitrary, made up measurement that can’t tame or heal their devotions. It would almost be dreamlike if we didn’t know that we experience similar things, it’s just like a slowed down snapshot of our more ‘adult’ hurried version of life compartmentalizing our ‘inner voice(s)’/narrator as a sort of diary cum checklist. In a sense the film is very mundane and yet there’s little that is mediocre in the portrayal. One of my trademark phrases when I was a teen used to be “existence hangs in the balance of extremities” and the artwork, gallery like flow of the moments, narration and narrative here reminds me of that.