5 Centimeters Per Second has had a bit of a rough journey to the UK. Originally licensed by ADV Films in 2007, the film was going to be a major release but never hit the shelves following the company's collapse the following year. The license remained in limbo for a while before being picked up by Manga Entertainment, with a DVD & Blu-Ray release expected in 2010. Unfortunately contractual wrangles saw the DVD release slip to 2011 and the Blu-Ray cancelled altogether, so it begs the question, was it worth the wait?
5 Centimeters Per Second is a film
comprised of three interlinked chapters focusing on different periods of the
life of its main character Takaki Tono. The first chapter tells of
Takaki's relationship with his schoolfriend Akari Shinohara, showing how the two
met in primary school and became close friends. However, he and Akari end
up attending different junior high schools but remain close through letters, and
when Takaki learns that he is going to move to the island of Kagoshima due to
his father's job he arranges to meet Akari for the last time prior to the move.
The second chapter brings us a few years into the future to show Takaki at high
school in Kagoshima, where he has become popular as a member of the school's
archery club. This story is told from the point of view of his classmate
Kanae Sumida, an energetic but shy girl who secretly loves him, as she tries to
build up the courage to tell him how she feels. Takaki is kind to her but
always seems preoccupied, and despite her lack of confidence Kanae realises she
must make her move as their school days draw to a close. The final story
shows an aimless Takaki in his late twenties working as a computer programmer in
Tokyo. He still pines for Akari and has been unable to settle down,
despite having an ex-girlfriend who still loves him. However, the story
also re-introduces Akari, who is on the verge of getting married to someone.
Both Takaki and Akari separately recall their childhood wish to watch the
falling cherry blossoms together and think about the directions their life has
taken them in.
Director Makoto Shinkai has been critically lauded since his self-made debut Voices of a Distant Star came out of nowhere and proved a hit, but his films have never really grabbed me that much. I found Voices of a Distant Star to be an amazing technical achievement but felt it lacked humanity, whilst The Place Promised in Our Early Days was visually stunning with an interesting premise but far too slow paced and a bit too minimalist. However, in 5 Centimeters Per Second he's has finally nailed it for me. The three stories
are beautifully constructed tales of unrequited love and the affects of time and distance on a relationship, the pacing is perfect and the characterisation spot-on. As with all of Shinkai's work the visuals are truly stunning, blending great character art with awesome backgrounds and jaw-dropping light effects. However, where his previous films had sci-fi settings and stayed in limited, sparsely populated settings, this one stays in modern-day Japan, with scenes in the bustling metropolis of Tokyo or schoolrooms providing a perfect counterpoint to the quieter, reflective moments Shinkai specialises in.
The love stories are brilliantly
told, with the same character shown in different situations and from
different perspectives. The first chapter was probably my
favourite, with Takaki and Akari's story told largely through flashback
as he takes a long train journey through the snow to meet her. The
hustle and bustle of Tokyo's stations give way to the vast expanse of
snowbound Japanese countryside as Takaki is left alone with his thoughts
and frets as his train is delayed more and more. The pacing and
balance is perfect and of the three chapters it is both the longest and
the one with the most satisfying and moving conclusion. The second
chapter shows the director's skill as the focus shifts to another
character and you see Takaki from the outside, no longer a party to his
thoughts and feelings. To his admirer Kanae and to the viewer
Takaki is seen as cool and kind, but emotionally distant, and Kanae's
struggle with her feelings is both touching and realistic. This
segment is nearly as long as the first and the contrast between the
wintry first chapter and the summery second is perfect. The final
chapter is the shortest of the three and combines two stories, one told
from Takaki's perspective as he wanders aimlessly through his life in
Tokyo, still hung up on Akari and unable to keep a long term
relationship, whilst the other is told from Akari's perspective as she
finds one of their old letters and reminisces. There's a strong
sense of melancholy in Takaki's story as he pines for a love who is
shown as moving on with her life and preparing for marriage to someone
else. The last five minutes or so of this section is pretty much a
music video that shows Takaki wandering around Tokyo reflecting on his
life and dreaming of meeting Akari again. It's brilliantly told
but is probably the least satisfying of the three chapters, as it's
where you realise that Takaki's love for her will forever be unrequited.
The three stories combine to make a poignant and perfectly told vignette of love and the trials of time and distance upon it. There's a very lyrical feeling to the story and each part is just the right length to get across everything it needs to without dragging at any point. Even the slower moments, such as Takaki sitting alone on a train in the middle of nowhere, remain interesting and there's an unspoken depth to the story which makes the film feel unique. Makoto Shinkai has succeeded in making a film that only he could make, it has
similar themes to his previous work but the real world setting and non-fantastical style of the story enhances its impact. It feels like he has refined his style and his themes from one film to the next, and this time he has delivered what his previous works fell short of. My only disappointment is that the UK isn't getting the Blu-Ray release, as the visuals in high definition would have been truly breathtaking.
Nonetheless, 5 Centimeters Per Second is the first true must-have anime of 2011. Whilst it's a real shame that the Blu-Ray release has been canned (not Manga's choice we are told) the DVD release is still a fantastic package with gorgeous visuals underpinning an excellent story delivered extremely well. For the first time Makoto Shinkai has really delivered something unique and special, the pace is perfect, the characters believable and the animation superb. The film is one of the best looking anime to come out of Japan in a while and for once the content of the book is as good as the cover. This is an anime that deserves to be in your collection, it's simply superb.
Plenty! Alongside the usual trailer for the film is a five-minute 'making of' montage of photos covering the entire production from location shooting and design through to the film's premiere. There's also four nine-minute interviews with each of the film's four main voice actors and best of all a thirty-six minute interview with director Makoto Shinkai which gives a unique and actually very interesting insight into the film's production and story. A really good selection.