5 Centimeters Per Second is more than just an animated film; a ticking paradox on the bullet train to our past, present, and future; a juxtaposition of distance over time; young love. A display lush with memory through color, director Makoto Shinkai succeeds at bringing to life the folds of experience we carry with us in our day-to-day, memories fleeting with emotion as quick as they are powerful. How many of us smell the spray of freshly peeled orange as it overtakes our senses, or find ourselves doused in the pink allure of the setting sun, only to be thrust into a timeless purgatory of “what ifs” and “If I’d only justs”? These aching meanders of the heart confirm what Shinkai sets out to do: take notice of fleeting moments that seem to last forever, and capture them on celluloid.
5 Centimeters Per Second starts by introducing us to the story’s two main characters, childhood friends Takaki Tono and Akari Shinohara, as they make their way along urban Tokyo streets. Right off the bat Shinkai explains the title of the film through his characters: “5 centimeters per second” refers to the rate at which a cherry blossom makes its way from a tree’s branch through the air. Akari and Takaki begin racing down streets and across train tracks, before being separated on either side of a speeding locomotive. We wait with Takaki for the beastly mass of steel and electricity to pass by, a sense of urgency in the young friends’ separation that is magnified further by the roar of wheels on track. It’s a feeling that stays with us throughout the remainder of the film as Takaki and Akari grow—not only physically, but emotionally apart as well.
Separated into three different episodes, this motif of singular moments punctuated by rapid-fire flashes of imagery both familiar and foreign (especially as the film continues onward) in 5 Centimeters Per Second is one which remains throughout the passing years of Takaki’s life, whom we focus on, as he experiences grade school, high school, and finally, the life of a working adult. All the while, we find him at different stages of the burgeoning young love viewers stumbled upon early on, between he and Akari. However, this is not a story of “love overcometh all”, but rather a true-to-form tale of the very real, frozen-in-time pauses we take to reflect on our past choices, right or wrong, and how life might be different had we gone left instead of right. Simply put, 5CPM performs a degradation of the fiery, passionate love that we all, at one point or another, hoped might last forever. For Akari and Takaki, it doesn’t.
5CPM is a story that speaks to viewers on multiple levels, depending on where they are in their life. Yoshimi Kondou, the voice actress for Akari, for example, was in high school during the recording of her voice for the film. She explains on the DVD’s interview featurette that it wasn’t hard to relate to several of the film’s characters, notably Kanae Sumida, a fellow classmate/stalker of Takaki in the film’s second episode. Here, raw infatuation replaces the shimmering iridescence of Akari’s coolheaded assuredness. This examiner was oft-reminded of his middle school years and the girls he had dated, but also about the moments when he thinks back and wonders about the plethora of decisions, "rights instead of lefts" that has brought him to where he is today..
This film isn’t for everyone. Many will disregard it due to the fact it’s an anime (Japanese animated film), others because of the subtitles or it being a foreign film. On a deeper level, many will find the rapid-fire editing, the juxtaposition of timelessness and timeliness, and Shinkai’s decision to end the film with a music video, to not only be disruptive, but alienating. This is mostly because, unlike popular series such as Naruto, Bleach, or The Last Airbender, 5CPM has an overarching theme characterized down to the very celluloid it’s printed on. It doesn’t cater to those looking for classical storytelling, instead telling its narrative through stunning imagery and the editing mentioned earlier. Unfortunately, (for the majority, anyway) this means multiple viewings. If there’s one piece of advice we can pass on to anyone interested in seeing this for the first time, it’s to go in with an open mind, and maybe watch the English dubbed version (regardless of preferences for the “original” track).
Special features for 5 Centimeters Per Second include a music video directed by Makato Shinkai himself, cast and director interviews, and two different trailers for the film. The interviews are pretty interesting, if only to see the faces behind the voices, and the music video, as with the film, is visually stunning (the music’s pretty good too).
5 Centimeters Per Second is rated TV-PG, for some smoking. For more information on questionable content within the film, click HERE.
This film is available at the following retail stores and online markets:
Amazon -- DVD
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