Anime Reviews: 5 Centimeters Per Second
Considered by many to be Makoto Shinkai's magnum opus, 5 Centimeters Per Second is a visually stunning film that is both beautiful and deeply sorrowful.
Title: 5 Centimeters Per Second a.k.a. Byousoku Go Senchimeetoru a.k.a. Byousoku 5 Centimeter -a chain of short stories about their distance-
Production: CoMix Wave, Inc.
Film Length: 63 minutes
Air Dates: 3/3/2007
Age Rating: 7+ (dark or disturbing thematic elements)
Summary: Ever since they were small, Takaki and Akari have always been together. Both being sickly and shy, they spent many of their days at the library, reading the same books and talking about what they've read. As time went on, however, Akari moved to a city called Tochigi, and so, separated by half a day's trip by bullet train, they write many letters to each other to keep in touch. Then, Takaki's family must move also--to Kagoshima, due to his parents' work--driving the two even further apart. Determined to see each other at least one more time, they promise to meet on a snowy March evening at 7:00 PM, in the train station nearest to Akari. Takaki boards the train, but the snowfall is relentless, and the promised time has long since passed...
The Good: Damn near everything
The Bad: Peaks early; ending may leave some viewers cold
The Ugly: You really have to stop and wonder what's wrong with Mr. Shinkai...
5 Centimeters Per Second is undeniable proof that Makoto Shinkai is at his best when he keeps it simple. I mean, after all, She and Her Cat was just a glimpse in the life of a desperately lonely woman's life, and Voices of a Distant Star was a look at how cosmically vast distances affected a young couple's relationship, and those were some of Shinkai's best works (if you ask me). To contrast, The Place Promised in Our Early Days tried to tell a more complicated story, but the results were mixed and, in the end, the best part of the film was its core storyline, without all the sci-fi nonsense and unnecessary monologues. Apparently I wasn't the only one who thought so, as 5 Centimeters returns to the simpler structure of Shinkai's earlier works, and it does so with gusto.
First of all, see I spent a good portion of those other Shinkai reviews gushing about the man's background artwork? Forget all that, because 5 Centimeters blows everything else out of the water. With hydrophobic dynamite. In just the first two minutes of the film, my jaw fixed itself to the floor and refused to pick itself back up until the very end, that's how gorgeous many of these shots are. I mean, look at those images I posted! That's the movie! It's literally an hour of top-grade scenery porn! Even on my third viewing of the film, I've had to pause it occasionally to stop and stare at the cherry blossom-laden crosswalk or the twilit snow-covered train stations. There are precious few animated films out there that can even remotely approach the level of beauty present in 5 Centimeters' backgrounds. It just boggles my mind.
I need to stop talking about background art, so let's move on to the character art which, finally, is up to snuff. In the past, Shinkai's characters looked either extremely off or pleasantly generic, but this time, he's finally nailed down a style that's both attractive and unique. I don't have much else to say on this front, so let's move on to the voice acting. Which is quite good. I won't stand from the rooftops and exclaim that either the English or Japanese versions are absolutely mind-blowingly amazing, but in both cases I was drawn into the story effortlessly and I grew attached to these characters, so that's pretty much all I could ever ask for.
And now, the music. If you've been paying attention at all, you probably already know how I feel about it--it's a Makoto Shinkai film, therefore Tenmon is doing the music, therefore it is legendary. With tracks like "Cherry Blossom Extract," "Distant Everyday Memories," "Irritation"...okay, you know what? This is going nowhere. Have the entire soundtrack. It's one of the best you'll ever hear, and I can guarantee that your day will be better once you finish it. Now, if you don't mind, I-I've got s-something in my eye, so let's move on.
Now we've gotta tackle the narrative meat of 5 Centimeters, and let me tell you, I cannot think of a single objectively bad thing to say about it. The story, as you can guess from its secondary Japanese title, is divided into three parts: Cherry Blossom Extract, COSMONAUT, and 5 Centimeters Per Second. Each one is its own beast, so I'll cover them individually:
Cherry Blossom Extract is the longest and also, far and away, the best part of the film. Actually, the fact that it's so much better than the other episodes is probably the only flaw 5 Centimeters has, but much like Chihayafuru, if having some sections be more spectacular than others is the biggest problem with your story, you're clearly doing something right. Anyway, this is where we meet Takaki and Akari, and right away, I was sucked in. It was genuinely sad that the two were to be separated by the course of their lives, and during Takaki's torturous train ride to see her again, it was almost as if I were in the seat next to him. And I won't dare spoil how it ends, but it's truly a masterwork of simple, emotional storytelling.
COSMONAUT is a noticeable step down, but then again, trying to outdo perfection will always be a losing battle. On its own, though, COSMONAUT is still a very strong segment. It more closely resembles your standard high school romance, and it follows Kanae Sumida as its main character instead of Takaki (whom Kanae majorly crushes on), but because Kanae is such an earnest and likable character, I can't bring myself to say anything negative about this segment. It's not quite as excellent as Cherry Blossom Extract, but like I said, you can't outdo perfection.
5 Centimeters Per Second is simultaneously the weakest and most profound segment of them all; also, clocking in at about 12 minutes, it's also the shortest. Without giving too much away, this segment takes place nearly nine years after COSMONAUT, and it shows Takaki's life as a company worker and how his childhood has been carried with him to the present. At first glance, the ending is unbearably depressing and many viewers might feel cheated or empty, but give it a few more views and keep the ending of COSMONAUT in mind as you do. The emotional payoff is one of the most cathartic and bittersweet I've ever seen. Heartbreakingly beautiful stuff.
And so, that's 5 Centimeters Per Second, a magnificently-rewarding film that stands as my favorite Makoto Shinkai title, tied with Voices of a Distant Star. Aside from the fact that it starts off immediately with its best part and the ending might take some effort to appreciate, there really is nothing negative I can say about the film. If you're an anime fan and you still haven't yet checked out Makoto Shinkai's works, you truly are missing out. And even if you're not much of an anime fan, I'd still recommend this one to you. It's just that good.
Final Score: 9.5 out of 10. Absolutely gorgeous in just about every aspect, 5 Centimeters Per Second is a bittersweet and profound film that proves simplicity often really is the best policy when it comes to telling a compelling story.