Guy meets girl, or vice versa.
Mutual interests build up and sooner or later the two of them realize that they are in love. Sometimes they would do desperate things, like take a train across half of Japan, just to see each other. They enjoy their romance and live happily ever after. That’s how the classic romantic tale typically goes, but often times in reality, things don’t always work out the way you would like them to.
Welcome to Byousoku 5 Centimeter or, as it’s more commonly referred to in English, 5 Centimeters per Second. This wasn’t his first film, but it was the film that got Makoto Shinkai recognized and the focus of Part V of the Makoto Shinkai Series.
Let’s get to it!
The story of 5 Centimeters per Second is fragmented into two chapters, but both chapters revolve around Takaki Tohno and his journey through life from young child to young adult. The film does a very good job of calling him Takaki in the first chapter and Tohno in the second chapter. It leads you to believe that the movie is two separate stories with different characters, and then it hits you that it’s the same guy in both stories, which puts everything into perspective when you realize it. A very nice touch by Makoto Shinkai, indeed.
In the first chapter, we are introduced to both Takaki and Akari through the reading of letters (mainly by Akari) from two friends who have grown apart over the years. While these letters are being read, we are given a few flashbacks to their childhood days to establish the fact that they are, indeed, childhood friends. While the letters apart already tell you that they no longer live near each other, the flashbacks still establish the reasons why. Both of them had families that were moving, therefore they had to transfer schools, but their transfers didn’t happen at the same exact time. Akari left first, which caused them to grow apart, and then Takaki found out he was moving as well, but in the opposite direction, meaning the two of them would grow further apart.
This prompts Takaki to board a train in the middle of a snowstorm to go visit Akari one final time before he moved. While on the train, the storm worsens and Takaki begins to feel uneasy. All the emotions associated with being in love are brought out here. The will to see the one you love one last time, the worry that she won’t be there when the train keeps getting delayed at station after station due to the worsening weather… all of that plays into Takaki’s character and you almost begin to feel the pain in his heart with each passing minute. Every time you hear the conductor announce that the train would be delayed, every time you saw Takaki look at his watch, you, too, began to wonder if she wouldn’t be there at the end.
But then you finally get to the end and she’s there, waiting, all alone this entire time for Takaki to arrive. By the time Takaki gets there, the station is about to close and the last train out has already departed, so the two of them travel to an abandoned shack where they nestle under an old blanket and just talk until they both fall asleep. The next morning, the two of them share a passionate kiss before Takaki gets back on the train to head home. They promise to write and call each other and you get the feeling of a nice long-distanced relationship blossoming.
And then, just when you’re into the story, it’s over!
The second chapter features Takaki again, but he’s referred to as Tohno, his last name. You’d have to understand a bit about Japanese formalities to understand why they do this. In the first part, Akari can call Takaki by his first same, sometimes with no honorific, but Takaki and Akari are close personal friends. In Japan, being called by your first name is often reserved for close friends and family members. All other times, you are usually called by your last name to honor your family’s heritage. That’s why when we are introduced to Kanae Sumida, she refers to Takaki by his last name because they are just classmates and ordinary friends, but Kanae wants to be something more.
This part of the story takes place after Takaki moved away. In his new school, he takes part in the school’s archery club. Kanae has a big crush on him and deliberately waits until his club activities are over and purposes runs into him at the scooter storage lot every single time. The two would always travel home together, stopping off at a convenience store along the way, and then end their journey with Kanae begin greeted by her dog and then waving goodbye to Takaki. She wants to confess to him so much, but she’s the type who always analyzes and thinks things through so if she’s not well-prepared for it, or if it’s not the perfect moment, she will be hesitant to say something to him.
Time goes by and the school has its usual Career Path Questionnaire and because Kanae can’t make up her mind, she becomes the only person in class who doesn’t fill it out which earns her a trip to the Guidance Counselor’s office. She later talks to Takaki who says he wants to go to college in Tokyo. This gives Kanae a clue that Takaki is looking to move away, but it also gives her the hint that Takaki is looking beyond her, constantly. She doesn’t want to admit it, but on one walk home, she breaks down crying because she believes it’s her last chance to confess to Takaki before he goes away to college. When Takaki asks what’s wrong, a rocket gets launched into space, which is something they were foreshadowing during this chapter of the movie.
The launch of the rocket is enough to distract Kanae from crying long enough for the two of them to watch it go up together. It was at that exact moment, she finally came to accept that no matter what said or what she did, she could never be something that Takaki wanted because he was always looking beyond into the distance to something else. Of course, that something else was Akari. Kanae ended up going home and crying herself to sleep over it.
Then we get to the third chapter, which is more or less, just an epilogue. Takaki, now in his young adult y ears, is working as a computer programmer. Akari, we find out, was getting married and had moved on in her life. Takaki narrates that his heart had been waiting so long that it gave up hope and grew dark and cold to the point where he couldn’t take it anymore and ended up quitting his job. Despite his success, in his mind, he had hit rock bottom and the disarray of his apartment in the city conveyed that perfectly. Kanae, on the other hand, was happy, but she found the a letter she wrote that she never gave to Takaki and admitted that she had a dream of a time long ago when they were still thirteen. The two of them pass by each other in their home town and Takaki realized who it was. He turned around to take a look and just when Akari turned around, a train passed and blocked their view of each other and the movie ends.
This is reality, folks. Not everything has a fairy tale ending and ends up being magical. I’m sure we’ve all experienced a friend that has moved away or perhaps you, yourself, have moved away and it caused you two to, over time, slowly lose contact with each other. Then life happens and events occur that you don’t even know about and by the time you remember them, everything has changed. This movie is symbolic of that part of reality that we all experience in life and it gave us a glimpse into the storytelling that Makoto Shinkai brings to the table when it comes to tragic love.
With 5 Centimeters per Second, Makoto Shinkai proves that you don’t need death, betrayal, or anything extreme to shatter romance. You just simply need life itself to play out naturally and the ebb and flow of time is enough to end one’s own romantic dreams and desires.
Throughout the movie, Takaki is a pretty stand up guy. He’s very kind and considerate and goes through a myriad of emotions. He is an avatar for a lot of people who have gone through the same things he has and I think that makes him extremely relatable. You see him develop over the course of the movie from an optimistic adolescent to a young adult who has gone virtually dead inside, but even with that emptiness inside of him, in the final scene, he seemed to find that one glimmer of hope that reverts him from his darkness, but since the film ends there, we will never know exactly if he comes out of it or not. It leaves the ending up to the viewer’s imagination, but despite that, Takaki’s journey was pulled of amazingly well.
Even in chapter two, when it sets in that it’s the same character from chapter one, you begin to see the transition of his character. He still remains nice and humble like he was in the first chapter, but there is a more mature air about him. While he’s nice, he’s not as chipper as he once was and the fact that he was constantly tapping out text messages on his phone, showed that he had a whole other agenda on his mind. That something was the wonder if Akari would ever write back.. if he would ever see her again, and with each blank stare into the horizon, you could feel his heart breaking bit by bit even though he didn’t show it through any kind of emotion.
I really enjoyed this character because this entire movie felt so human and realistic. There was no over the top reasons or excuses that caused Takaki and Akari to drift apart, nor were there any harsh pivotal points that drove Kanae away from Takaki. All of it happened naturally as if we were just watching life unfold before our very eyes and the characters sold that story extremely well, Takaki included. Without the Takaki character being written and developed the way that it had, this message could have never been portrayed as good as it came across. Even shows like Clannad, which was supposed to be about a life’s journey, had that supernatural aspect to it like the other dimension, to Fuko being a haunting spirit… weird stuff like that, but here in Byousoku 5 Centimeter, Makoto Shinkai was able to accomplish what Clannad did just through life itself and nothing way over the top and all through the leading character, Takaki Tohno.
Akari made me angry.. .she really did. It had nothing to do with her personality whatsoever as she was a pretty timid and soft-spoken girl. When you heard the seiyu narrating the letters that she wrote to Takaki at the beginning of the movie, you got a good, lasting impression of her character profile. She had little change in inflection in her voice, but when she did, you knew she was conveying a very specific kind of emotion. Despite not sounding like it at times, she was caring and compassionate and the fact that she waited for hours in the cold train station for Takaki to arrive, spoke volumes to her character as a person.
So why did she make me angry? Simply because of the choice she made in life. Takaki and Akari shared that kiss… that was supposed to seal the bond between them in the hopes that one day they would reunite, but while Takaki continued to wait and wait and wait, Akari made the decision, somewhere along the way, that she wasn’t going to and decided to fall in love with someone else and get married. It’s life… it happens.. I get that, but if you’ve ever been in that situation where you have waited for the one you loved for so long, and then you find out that all that time you were waiting was for naught, it rots and twists into the pit of your stomach until it makes you sick.
That happens despite the fact that Akari is a good-natured person and that’s what’s even worse about is the fact that she’s still kind-natured at the end of the film. It makes you curse life for being so cruel and it makes you question why Akari just never decided to wait for Takaki or vice versa? What causes people to grow apart? Why do people lose interest in staying in touch? It’s those questions that you have to ask because the answers end up ruining a perfectly good relationship.
The fact that this character brought this anger out of me is just a shining example of the brilliance of the writing and direction of the film. My hats off to Shinkai-san for pulling those kind of emotions out of me all because of one little line of dialogue out of a character’s mouth.
Kanae is the opposite of Akari. She’s a little more energetic, yet, she’s more reserved in her emotions. She’s energetic in the fact that she goes out of her way each and every day to meet up with Takaki. She also enjoys surfing in her spare time and never gives up no matter how many times she fails at it. She always keeps that positive outlook on everything she does… except making confessions… and future career decisions. That’s where the reservation portion of her character kicks in.
We even see flashes of this at the convenience store when Takaki quickly chooses what he wants to buy and Kanae is still pondering what to have. This actually becomes a key development point because the more times they visit, the quicker Kanae gets at choosing what she wants to have, which is symbolic of her working up the courage to confessing her feelings to Takaki. She finds out that Takaki is moving away to go to a university in Tokyo and this is what hastens her decision, but at the same time, she realizes that something is off about Takaki because he always seems to be looking past her towards something else. When she tries to confess, she ends up breaking down and unable to do it. She realizes that her and Takaki could never be a couple and that’s where the story ends.
Maybe that’s why I also felt angry towards Akari because Kanae put so much effort into trying to get together with Takaki that it was all for naught because Takaki was saving himself for the off chance that he would meet Akari again.
But I digress… onwards!
Art and Animation
That’s pretty much how you sum up 5 Centimeters per Second… Gorgeous. Every scene… every detail… every bit of lighting was just fantastic. The animation was as smooth as it could have been and ComixWave put forth a ton of effort into this masterpiece. From the lights of the interior of a bullet train scrawling across a wall when it passes, to the handwriting in the letters written between Akari and Takaki, to the convenience store.. holy hell, the convenience store…. you could make out the product labels of just about every single item in there! All of it was gorgeous.
My favorites were the outskirts of the city where they grew up as children. The sakura (cherry blossom) tree leaves falling in the wind, the pavement, the buildings.. all of the texture work was simply amazing. I said this about the ef series, but it looks like a painting come to life. I guess if I had to sum up the art in one word… it would “surreal”
The character designs were plain and basic, but because this was depicting real life, you wouldn’t expect to see a person in an orange jumpsuit or some Stretch Armstrong wannabe in a straw hat. This movie wasn’t meant to move action figures… it was meant to tell a story and that’s exactly how the characters were designed.
Takaki received the most attention since the movie focused on him. You saw him at an early age through young adult and the expressions on hi s face clearly coincided with the plot points of his character development. Akari and Kanae each had their own little nuances about them to easily tell them apart and the way they were dressed, right down to their hairstyles, also conveyed their emotions as well as their overall character. This movie proves that you don’t need orange hair and black robes to stand out, but just a design to compliment the writing.
This movie accomplished that very well!
5 Centimeters per Second is a must-see movie for any fan of the romance genre. There’s no crazy tsundere characters, no sci-fi aspects… this is just a simple tale of a man in love who ends up alone thanks to the natural occurrence of life. The non-happy ending is going to be a recurring theme with Makoto Shinkai so if you decide that you like this movie and want to check out his other works, all I will say is that you have been forewarned.
The art is very mesmerizing to look at, the story is will written, and you feel a connection to the three main characters portrayed. This movie is nothing short of brilliant in every aspect and for a first showing from Makoto Shinkai, I’d have to say… well done, sir. Well done.
I would say more, but as I described the story and the characters, I kind of got carried away and put what would have been final thoughts, into those sections. Whoops, but oh well. Run to Amazon, order a drone to drop this off at your house, do whatever you need to do, but go watch or buy 5 Centimeters per Second. You won’t regret it!
In Part VI of the Makoto Shinkai series, I will be taking a look at Hoshi no Koe, or better known by it’s English title, Voices of a Distant Star.
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Until next time,
5 Centimeters per Second
An humbling tale and reminder that life is what it is and sometimes things don't end up the way you hope.