One of the major questions I have always asked myself is whether or nor it is worth reaching for an seemingly impossible goal? At what point is grasping at some thing that you may never reach stop being noble and start being self-inflicted misery? At what point are you giving up before the fight truly started? Are you clinging to memories that are merely holding you back? Is fighting for a noble and impossible ideal running towards something or running away? 5cm Per Second looks at that same question and weaves a beautiful but heart breaking tale from it.
This was actually the first work by Makoto Shinkai that I watched. And honestly I don’t know why I hadn’t watched the others. I knew of them for so long, but grabbing up this film made me desperate to go back and watch the others. And I honestly don’t think the order of films is important in terms of his ability to tell a story. However, you can clearly see the progression of the animation and character designs.
5cm Per Second is broken into three distinct parts each with its own title but they are all part of the greater story about Takaki Tono. It starts with Cherry Blossom Extract which introduces us to Takaki Tono and Akari Shinohara‘s blossoming long distance relationship. Cosmonaut skips ahead a few years to high school where we see Takaki and his friend Kanae Sumida. She is in love with him but cannot bring herself to tell him. 5cm Per Second concludes the tale and we see how Takaki and Akari have grown up and how the events of the first story have effected their lives.
Takaki is very single-minded and while in the first short this makes him endearing, by the end it is his greatest flaw. He shows that the things you think and want as a child have to change as you grow up or you may never get anywhere. It also makes me think of a fleeting idea that the things you love about someone, you can come to dislike after a period of time. It is a very honest lesson and a very difficult one to reflect upon while watching. Contrastly, all the girls in the film seem to understand the concept of letting go or reaching for someone that can never truly be there. Kanae I found to be very relatable (though all the characters have extremely empathic qualities) because she has the passion for something, in this case, surfing, but displays indecision of where she is going in life.
Takaki has set his mind to an ideal and never wavers no matter what happens to him. That his ideal is his first love which, as the film goes on, is more and more obviously an anchor he refuses to let go of. If this were most other stories he would be a hero that we were rooting for and would find a grand payoff for his devotion. Instead he is merely a protagonist of a tragic tale doomed to suffer for his refusal to let go of the past. I felt that Voices of a Distant Star had universal archetypal characters but in 5cm Per Second we have fully realized people who are still easily relatable. I felt the most attachment to Kanae although I could easily see parts of myself in all three characters. I always have an affection for charters who are somewhat lost in life and characters who love someone continually out of reach.
Speaking from personal experience, I know that long distance relationships can work out but that is as an adult. When you are young, distance seems insurmountable. The film does a great job of projecting this. As an adult you have a say in where you go and when, but as a child you don’t have that control. Probably the most heartbreaking part is to watch one person let go and watch the other desperately hold on. It is almost funny because in the end though they are close in proximity they couldn’t be further from each other. While his other films deal with the distance concept, 5cm Per Second depicts it very realistically (he leaves out the science fiction aspects found in his other films) with both youthful hope and tragedy.
I have always felt that distance does not necessarily kill a relationship but it is quite a burden on it. They require much more energy and effort. In a long distance relationship, both people have to be willing to put in that effort or the relationship will fall apart. This is the story of showing what you give up when you cling to something so beautiful in the past that you miss all the beauty that surrounds you in the present. When only one person blindly pours in that effort, both people get hurt. Such is the risk of love. Makoto Shinkai proves himself to be an excellent director that does not need to fall back on any science fiction trappings to tell a brilliant love story. He can tell a heart-moving story in any time period by connecting us to the characters.
As with all of his works, Shinkai directs beautifully. Everything about this film is visually striking. He uses angle and light supremely well, and is actually able to convey emotion with them. The last short is a beautiful piece, practically a music video, and it helped solidify how easily time can pass but how it is not always so easy to forget. Even not knowing the significance of the song before watching the extras, it really did the job of resonating and being somehow familiar. By the way, apparently the song is something of a pop classic in Japan.
Any criticisms I had for the art and music for Makoto Shinkai’s earlier works are thrown out the window in 5cm Per Second. With a studio behind him his characters designs look fully realized and breathtaking. This frees Shinkai to focus on directing which he does in fine form. He masterfully uses his visuals to tell us about the characters as much as the dialog does. The last piece ties everything together in a dialog free finale that tells us everything we need to know and drives home the emotional impact like few things you will see in anime.
To be blunt, I loved this movie. It is Makoto’s most recent work and in my opinion he has just gotten better with time. His simple looks at love and distance stay true to his beginnings but he was able to bring it even closer to who we are in this film. His themes are tried and true by many but he continues to breath new life into them. Also after a second viewing I was able to see the ending as hopeful and that just made the film that much better.
Makoto Shinkai likes to leave you where the main story is over but you can imagine how the it continues as you like. It is up to the viewer to decide if Takaki learns to move on or not. Certain anime directors are accused of being able to do one type of movie really well. So far I feel this is a criticisms that can be levied at Makoto Shinkai. He does brilliant movies but they all have the same themes of love and distance. He does these amazingly well but I am curious what else he has in his bag of tricks. If given the chance would he explore other topics? He is such a good director I want to see him try another idea. Can he do comedy? Historical drama? Revenge stories? Mysteries? Even if he never explores any other theme, I am still in love with his work. As long as he continues to make films I shall continue to watch them no matter what they are about.