By now, you might be wondering if I like anything. I do. And I love 5 Centimeters per Second.
5cm/s is a collection of three animated short films, telling a simple love story from three angles and two points of view from Japanese storyteller Makoto Shinkai. It’s the story of two kids, Takaki Tono and Akari Shinohara who, after being close friends in elementary school, have to move far away from each other when their parents get jobs in faraway cities connected only by train. Akari keeps up their friendship through frequent letters back to Takaki, telling him all about her day to day life.
Eventually, they agree to meet by train. Never has a simple train journey been more desperate or filled with longing. The journey there and what awaits Takaki at the station comprises the first act of the movie, and thus makes it really hard to review. There’s only 25 minutes of plot here. The train makes it to the station. Takaki meets Akari again for the first time in years. Both of these things are a lot more sad than they seem in words. The scene between them is undercut with the sad knowledge that Takaki is about to move even further away from her. And in the end, Takaki has to get back on the train.
Part two is the story of Kanae Sumida, a girl in her third year of senior high. She’s in love with a boy, a practicing archer in her grade by the name of Takaki Tono. This chapter follows her inability to decide whether or not to go to college, go back to surfing or confess her feelings to Takaki. This Takaki is different. He’s distant, withdrawn. He’s perpetually writing emails on his phone. Kanae is attracted to him immediately, following him to high school. Who wouldn’t fall in love with Takaki’s perpetually romantic personality? The revelation of who Takaki has been writing to all this time is more heartbreaking than any other answer that could have been. And the ending to this episode is again suffused with longing and truth, along with a tragic beauty.
Part three comes back to Takaki Tono as an adult. In a montage set to “famous Japanese pop song One More Time, One More Chance“, we see that Takaki and Akari are….
But that’s a discovery that should be left unsaid.
I should tell you right now, no part of this movie won’t reduce you to tears. I just started up this movie again to review it. It’s been five minutes. Just hearing the background music is bringing tears to my eyes. The first time I saw this movie, I made the mistake of watching the three parts separately. The story these short films add up to is much greater than the stories told within their individual frames. I found this out not moments ago, when I pressed play on episode one and the melody from the final montage was underscoring the scenes between Akari and Takaki. That simple piano melody ranks alongside the theme from Up, both in simplicity and the vast emotions it can evoke with almost no effort.
Takaki is a melancholic sort, perpetually sad. But over the course of sixty minutes, we learn that he has damn good reason to be sad. So does everyone else in this universe. The past is a shade hanging eternally over the present states of mind of these characters. When you live your life under a cloud of depression, it doesn’t matter how thick or slowly the cherry blossom petals fall. All you can see is the raindrops falling, just meters away from where you’re standing. Akari and Kanae are also sad people. Living forever with unrequited love would bum anybody out.
This one movie, more than any I’ve ever seen, captures the confusion and the sadness of being in love with someone who isn’t there. Whether it’s physically, as in part one, or emotionally, as in part two, or both in part three. Of course, harping on and on about this movie’s writing is also neglecting its other greatest strength: its animation and backgrounds.
Makoto Shinkai has a style unique to himself, like most notable anime directors. The simple lines and evocative but non-specific character designs of his people are offset by a truly stunning attention to detail in his backgrounds. When watching this movie for the first time, I was utterly gobsmacked at how packed the backgrounds are with little things you don’t notice on first blush, but feel as a part of the reality of it all. It all serves the purpose of immersing you into the story.
Now, I’ve gone this entire way without mentioning the one part of this story I usually can’t get behind. If you don’t want to know how it ends, my final score is four stars out of four. While what’s coming up is not a spoiler in the usual sense of the word, I’m unsure as to how well a new audience would be able to watch this movie while knowing how it ends. So, for all you out there who haven’t seen it, I’d ask you to kindly stop reading here. FOUR STARS
But you didn’t stop reading there, did you. No, you’re like me and anyone else who finished The Dark Tower. So I’ll keep it deliberately vague, just for you, curious reader.
Just like the ending to 5cm/s. Get it?
Does Takaki find Akari? Does Kanae ever get over her wounded heart? Does Akari stop waiting for Takaki to show up? These are all questions that can be asked at the end of any chapter of this movie and again at the end. And then once more after the end. When I saw The Wrestler for the first time, the ending was obvious. When I saw Inception earlier this summer, the ending was obvious. But both films went out of their way to muddy the waters. With The Wrestler, I felt as though Darren Aronofsky was compromising the film at the last minute, afraid to investigate the consequences of what’s implied to have happened. With Inception, much debate has raged over whether the ending questions Cobb’s reality, ours or the nature of film itself as a sort of shared dream.
Yet, with the ambiguity of 5 Centimers per Second‘s ending, I found closure. Does Takaki find Akari again? Does Kanae move on? Does Akari stop waiting? In these cases, a question mark is a thousand times more honest and conclusive than a full stop could hope to be.
What do you think?