English Title: 5 Centimeters per Second
Japanese Title: 秒速5センチメートル
Director(s): Shinkai Makoto
Writer(s): Shinkai Makoto
Studio: CoMix Wave
Runtime: 1h 5m
Starring: Mizuhashi Kenji, Kondo Yoshimi, Onouei Ayaka, Hanamura Satomi
Tono Takaki and Shinohara Akari develop a deep friendship during elementary school. Akari moves away after graduation and they maintain contact through letters. To make matters worse, Takaki is going to move because of his father’s job, thereby putting even more distance between him and Akari. The two decide to meet up before his move.
The film is split into three chapters: 1. “Cherry Blossom”, 2. “Cosmonaut” and 3. “5 Centimeters per Second”.
“Cherry Blossom” takes up about half the film and can be considered the main piece of the text. It covers Takaki’s and Akari’s friendship at school over the years and his long train trip to see her before his move.
“Cosmonaut” covers Takaki’s time after the move and, interestingly, switches viewpoint character to fellow student Sumida Kanae. She obviously has feelings for Takaki and, although he is kind to her, she notices that his mind is elsewhere.
The final chapter “5 Centimeters per Second” is set in 2008, about ten years after the end of the first chapter. Takaki is working as a software programmer. His girlfriend Mizuno Risa senses that her efforts to get closer to him are going nowhere.
This is a heartbreaking story about growing apart and Takaki’s inability to deal with such a loss. It reads like cheese when described in writing, particularly the first chapter, but both the plot and emotional resonance are well managed. Anyone who has caught a late and slow-moving train to see someone dear can relate. If one wants to see how emotionally charged anime can get, then this is one of the better examples.
Without changing the tone or jarring the audience out of the story, the second chapter provides some relief to the previous chapter by changing the viewpoint character. It is a simple but clever way to mix things up whilst still maintaining the focus on Takaki.
The one weakness of this film is that the final chapter is too short (and it also is the shortest). In a way, nothing more needs to be said but even just a few minutes more would make it feel more complete.
Visually, it is brilliant. Anime in the last twenty years or so has made good use of CGI to enhance (rather than compromise) the traditional look, and 5 Centimeters per Second is one of the many good examples of this. Romance and slice of life are not uncommon in anime and Shinkai conveys the mood well with beautiful shots of everyday life, whether it’s cityscapes or everyday objects, especially whilst there is unavoidable voiceover narration. It is a little arty but it’s not overdone.
Aside from a few bits of clumsiness in the pacing during the first chapter, which doesn’t ruin the film, it is a powerful and engaging work. 5 Centimeters per Second is Shinkai’s second release (excluding his five short films) and although all his films since are generally good, this is probably his best work.
The manga with artwork by Seike Yukiko in effect covers the same three chapters but does so evenly. As such, the first chapter runs closely to the film with substantially more material corresponding to the film’s second and third chapters. Also, as expected in manga, the thoughts of the characters are more explicitly stated on the page so there is at times less ambiguity which may give a little more satisfaction to the audience compared to the film.
There is also an epilogue that follows Sumida Kanae as an adult. It’s not really necessary but it’s a nice enough addition.
Those who like the film will most likely appreciate the manga as well. It is strongly recommended that one views the anime first before reading the manga to minimize spoiling.
The light novel 5 Centimeters per Second: One More Side, adapted by Kanoh Arata, is a retelling of the three chapters but from the point-of-view of “the other”. Therefore, “Cherry Blossom” is told from Akari’s perspective in first-person; “Cosmonaut” is told from Takaki’s perspective, also in first-person; and “5 Centimeters per Second” alternates between Akari’s and Takaki’s perspective, told in third-person.
As expected of a novel, there is more “telling”, mentioning events which have occurred over the years in the lives of the two main characters, information not found in either the film or the manga.
The style is simple, maybe a little too simple as it relies on telling rather than showing. But it’s not crudely written. It flows quite well, making an easy read. Overall, it is, perhaps surprisingly, not bad. I expected there to be much repetition (from the film and manga) but it did not feel that way. I read this quite a long time after viewing the anime and reading the manga, so that combined with the alternate viewpoints helped keep the story fresh enough.
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