The Infinite Zenith

Where insights on anime, games, academia and life dare to converge

Five Centimeters Per Second: Cherry Blossom

Takaki Tohno quickly befriends Akari Shinohara when she transfers to his elementary school. They grow closer to each other due to similar interests and outlooks; for instance, they both prefer to stay inside during recess due to their seasonal allergies. As a result, they form a strong bond; they speak to each other using their given names without any form of honorifics, which is a sign of deep friendship and familiarity in Japan. (This fact is lost in the movie’s translation to English and other languages, which reduces the implied closeness of their relationship). Upon graduating from elementary school, Akari moves to Tochigi, due to her parents’ jobs. The two keep in contact by writing letters but eventually begin to drift apart. When Takaki learns that his family will be moving to Kagoshima, he decides to go see Akari one final time, since they will be too far apart to visit each other at all after moving. He also prepares a letter for Akari containing his feelings. However, Takaki loses his letter during the journey and a severe snowstorm delays his train for several hours. As the two finally meet and share their first kiss, Takaki realizes they will never be together again. Stranded in a shed due to the snowstorm, they fall asleep after talking late into the night. Takaki departs the next morning, and the two promise to continue writing to each other. As the train rolls away, Takaki decides that the loss of his letter is not important anymore after the kiss, while Akari silently looks at her own letter addressed to Takaki.

  • I first heard about Five Centimeters per Second through another developer at the lab, who recommended it to me upon hearing about my interests in anime. He would also later inform me that The Garden of Words was released.  Upon finishing   Five Centimeters per Second, I was left with the same feeling as I had after finishing the Ah! My Goddess movie. Both movies eventually set the benchmark for the quality of anime (and media in general) that I’ve come to consider as worthwhile.

  • Cherry blossoms are a major part of the Japanese culture and symbolise life. In the context of the movie, the rate at which they fall is supposed to act as a metaphor for falling in love, implying it’s a slow, gradual process.

  • This is the opening scene from the movie: in the first act, Takaki and Akari are only 11. While Akari enjoys evoking imagery in comparing the falling cherry blossoms to snow, Takaki has a much more literal pragmatic approach and as such, sees snow as snow, and cherry blossoms as cherry blossoms.

  • Takaki describes listening to Akari’s  telling him about her impressions of the world as being presented in such a manner as to make it sound as though her perspectives could be true.

  • Takaki and Akari corresponded via letters; the story occurs before the prevalence of communication platforms like Facebook and Skype. However, even with our shiny new communication implements, long distance relationships can still dissolve if the parties are not sufficiently mature. On the flip side, mature individuals can make things work.

  • If memory serves, Five Centimeters per Second was the first drama I’d seen. Contrasting most anime, it dispenses with all the “happily ever after” formula and chooses to play things more realistically.

  • The art in Five Centimeters per Second is absolutely gorgeous; this is something I probably will continue to refer to throughout my discussions. Makoto Shinkai is accomplished as an artist, but his art in Five Centimeters per Second improves upon his previous works further because this time around, he had other staff dedicated towards creating the artwork.

  • Great attention is paid to every little detail in the movie, whether it be the grains in the paper Akari used for her letters or the sweeping panoramas that are present in every scene of the movie. This is the first letter Takaki recieves from Akari. He reads it repeatedly and even hides it with his textbooks so that he could peruse it during class.

  • I regard Five Centimeters per Second as the anime equivalent of Crysis; both are made in 2007,  Five Centimeters per Second and Crysis stood out as the very top of their line at time of release, and even in present day, only a few of their contemporaries come close in terms of graphics and art. Besides Children Who Chase Lost Voices from Deep Below and The Garden of Words (both of which bear Makoto Shinkai’s involvement), the only series I’ve seen that can really compete with the graphics in  Five Centimeters per Second is Gundam Unicorn.

  • The first act depicts just how close Takaki and Akari are. The two correspond on a monthly basis during junior high after Akari leaves. Through their letters, the two genuinely believe that they are the only ones in the world that understand one other.

  • Takaki receives a question from one of his senior classmates, asking him whether or not that is a love letter or not. He responds that it is not. I remember receiving a letter from a friend who lived quite far from where I am: we had met as a result of having another friend in common and was in regular correspondence during high school, but time and space has led that to be a distant memory. I still have the letter somewhere, but I can’t quite remember where it is.

  • One of the major contrasts between Japan (by extension, Hong Kong) and Canada is the placement of services and shops. I’m a little envious of people on that side of the world, because they can go places and buy stuff without the need to take a bus or drive. When I first watched  Five Centimeters per Second, I didn’t have a driver’s license yet.

  • Yet another evening falls over Tokyo. One unusual aspect of the movie’s first chapter was the flow of time, which flits back and fourth between the past and present while Takaki recounts his story via flashbacks. It takes a little getting used to, but it is indicative of our memories of childhood and how those are often fleeting and difficult to recall.

  • You could practically feel the brisk Tokyo morning in this image. For me, winter days like these are very common where I am, and with sunny mornings, I really don’t mind the cold that much, nor do I mind digging out after a snowstorm. I do mind mornings where the windshield ices over, and days where the temperatures hover close to freezing, causing water to thaw and re-freeze, making the roads downright treacherous.

  • Cool LEDs mark crosswalks: I remarked wishing that my current city had them, but on second thought, those would interfere with the snow removal crews.

  • Takaki constantly dreams of being a bird, flying through the sky above the city by night. In these dreams, he finds Akari sitting by a cherry blossom tree reading a book, and it takes her a while to notice him.

  • In Takaki’s imagination, when Akari is writing her letters, she is always alone, signifying how Takaki singularly believes that the two of them are tied together by fate.

  • The first act focuses on Takaki’s final meeting with Akari before he moves to an island in the south.

  • On the morning Takaki is scheduled to meet up with Akari, it is raining and the skies are blanketed by a single grey lid. With anticipation mounting, Takaki finds himself unable to concentrate on his classes. In living memory, I’m positive this hasn’t happened to me.

  • At the current time of writing, the exchange rate is such that it would cost around 36.40 CAD for Takaki to complete his trip. Iwafune is some eighty-eight klicks from the Shinjuku station, and it takes an estimated eighty-nine minutes to arrive assuming normal conditions. We consider that this rate for the train tickets would not be unreasonable: travelling a comparable distance by Greyhound bus would cost roughly thirty dollars.

  • I can’t place my finger on why reading exchanges such as these is so comforting: even though most of my exchanges happen via a shiny 1080p screen, the effect remains unaltered. I could probably turn this into a proposed project, but that definitely lies outside the domain of my primary research interests.

  • Takaki makes certain that none of his classmates were around before leaving for the station after school. By this point, the temperatures have dropped and it’s begun to snow.

  • Every stop that one has make to travel from Shinjuku (新宿区) to Iwafune (岩舟) is documented well, raising yet another instance of the amount of attention and detail that were paid to this movie. This route can be replicated in real life, of course, although I leave it to only the most hardcore of enthusiasts to undertake. I don’t think there’s anything of historical or cultural significance in Iwafune: it’s a small town in the Togichi district with some 18000 people.

  • Takaki will end up arriving in Iwafune four hours after his stated time: extreme conditions can delay transportation greatly, and as such, I make it a point to leave early on days where weather is unfavourable. Of course, in some cases, returning home is challenging owing to erratic bus schedules thrown off by poor conditions, but safety comes first. I’m much less forgiving about transit operators who disregard schedules and leaves earlier than anticipated.

  • The black G-Shock watch Takaki wears was a gift he received to celebrate his successful entry into junior high. I used to have an Ironman Triathalon watch that dated back to when I was done elementary, but it stopped working three summers ago, and I now have an analogue Roots watch in its place.

  • The decreasing distance between Takaki and Akari evokes his memories of his move from Nagano to Tokyo with his father, when he was entering his third year of primary school. This act is set five years since then: he is now 13. Takaki attributes his capacity to endure the difficult move as a consequence of Akari’s support and hopes that he supported her in equal measure.

  • Takaki and Akari have known each other since grade four, hence the strength of their friendship. The cat Akari is petting is named Mimi, a callback to the name another cat in Shinkai’s earlier work, She and Her Cat. Despite being only six minutes long, it is rather poignant and melancholic in atmosphere.

  • Takaki and Akari discuss the Cambrian age with each other at a McDonald’s restaurant. When I was in third grade, I discovered my interests with the natural sciences, although I did not become more social until my final year of primary school, where I was known among my peers as “The Oracle” for lending assistance to individuals with questions about the course contents.

  • The anxious look Akari  wears on her first day reminds Takaki of his own position shortly after arriving to his new school a year ago. Feeling that they were peas in a pod, Takaki approaches her and found that he got along exceptionally well with Akari.

  • Takaki and Akari’s interests were more mature than other children and so, they did not interact much with the others. They believed that following graduation, they would a new life as junior high students and gain an improved perspective on the world, as well as being more capable of coming to terms with their emotions. Indeed, life is a continuous journey, and even now, there are always new concepts to learn and master. Compared to three years ago, I am significantly more reserved and more willing to consider issues from multiple perspectives.

  • Takaki demonstrates an iron resolve when he runs, hand-in-hand, with Akari after removing ridicule from their classmates and making a hasty retreat. In its first act, Five Centimeters per Second depicts  how love can blossom at any age, even if it is not immediately recognised. The novel presents Akari and Takaki as being highly romantic and idealistic about love, believing that they could overcome any challenge in the world so as long as they had each other. To this end, they studied together to get into the same junior high school after their three years together.

  • I am somewhat resentful of that idealism, of course, because I’ve seen and done enough (more than Behind The Nihon Review’s contributors, anyways) to understand that while skill is necessary for success, it is not sufficient, and that luck sometimes plays a significant factor in determining the outcome of an event.

  • It is Takaki’s first time traveling via train to this part of the prefecture, so he consults a map to find his way. A new leg of the C-Train opened just last year, and I haven’t visited it yet. I’ll probably do so in due course, although the C-Train routes aren’t so complex as to necessitate a map to navigate.

  • A flashback depicts Takaki’s conversation with Akari: after graduation, Akari was set to move to Iwafune, putting distance between the two. After a pained conversation, he had hoped Akari had forgotten about him and regretted telling her to hold her words after she informed him that she was moving.

  • They had these electronic schedules in Tokyo since the 90s to tell travelers when the next train would arrive. The city council gotten around to installing these now, and they are incredibly useful in telling me where the next train is. They’re accurate to around two minutes. Buses rely on preset schedules. Three years back, these were just being installed at train stations around the city.

  • Every time I’m at a C-train station, my mind drifts towards Five Centimeters per Second. Trains are featured frequently in Makoto Shinkai’s films and probably symbolise a dependable means of connecting people together.

  • As Takaki travels further, the delays accumulate. There is an incredible amount of attention paid to the details, whether it be the textures on the ground or lighting effects. Thus, the first act distinctly feels very cold and immerses the viewer in the story.

  • Akari and Takaki part ways after graduating from primary school. She lives around three hours from Takaki at present, but with Takaki set for a move to the southern island of On the third semester, Takaki was soon going to be moving to Kagoshima on Kyūshū island, setting him around two hours from Akari by plane. Unable to bear the thought of this separation, Tohno desired nothing more than to see her once more before leaving.

  • We see an inordinate number of train stations and transfers during the course of Takaki’s journey to Iwafune. In fact, the atmospherics and colours gives  this episode a feeling not dissimilar to that from  The Polar Express. My screenshots remain faithful to the original coloration in Five Centimeters per Second: other sources provided screenshots with a yellow tinge.

  • Takaki’s reaction after dropping his letter is one of the most emotional moments of the film. Upon watching this for the first time, I thought that it was his schedule that he dropped, but the voice-over removes any ambiguity. At this point, Takaki feels that the lost letter would be inconsequential in the long run, and that despite their efforts and beliefs, circumstances beyond their control would probably increase the distance between them.

  • Akari is seen here writing a letter back to Tohno early in the morning. Any imagined scenes are either very obvious or a little hazy.

  • My future is most uncertain at the present, and a year from now, I could find myself studying in a different city. When I close my eyes, a voice tells me it’s going to be fine, so with some effort, I pull my train of thought back towards discussing Five Centimeters per Second, where we have reached the point in the act where Takaki’s train comes to a full stop for two hours. The pain of being unable to see Akari mounts with every passing second, to the point where he wishes that Akari would have gone home rather than waiting for him.

  • The train finally does arrive in Iwafune at 23:00, four hours after Takaki’s planned time of arrival. He enters the station, expecting it to be deserted.

  • For those who don’t mind spoilers, I find this to be probably the happiest moment in Five Centimeters per Second: Akari has been waiting for Takaki at the train station the entire time, and fell asleep prior to his arrival.

  • Sometimes, being able to see someone is in itself a blessing. For an instant, the winter night’s cold and bluster are forgotten as the two reunite after three years.

  • Takaki expresses that the home cooked food and Houji tea was the best he tasted in his entire life. Akari tells Takaki that she made the Obento (Japanese lunchbox) right after she got home from school with a little help from her mother. The novel provides a little more insight onto this matter: when Akari asks her mother for help in making this bento, the latter looked quite happy when she asked Akari who it was for, and Akari merely smiled, thinking her mother understood what was going on.

  • The conversation that Akari and Takaki share belie how much they missed one another, despite never enunciating their feelings. Their conversation brings them to midnight: the station operator gently reminds the two that the station is closing and the two thank him, not knowing that the operator had refrained from disturbing them.

  • Iwafune is completely buried in snow as Akari and Takaki make their way along path lit by lamps in the snow. Takaki is glad that he had grown a few centimeters taller than Akari and watches as she happily runs ahead of him.

  • The snow gently blankets the countryside. Snow is an unusual symbol in that it can represent concepts ranging from love all the way to death. In Key’s CLANNAD and Kanon, snow is simultaneously beautiful and deadly. In both visual novels, the protagonist has a dislike for snow for its melancholy and attendant despair, coming down only on the grayest of days.

  • Takaki and Akari gaze at the Sakura tree that the latter mentioned in her letters to him. This scene is rather bittersweet; Takaki realizes they will never be together again, reflecting on how some relationships in the real world can come and go at the drop of a hat owing to circumstances outside one’s control. I have an addendum to that, of course, now that I’ve got three years more of wisdom since I first wrote this. I add that relationships between mature individuals are far more stable and meaningful, although my opposition towards the idea that high school romance is ‘bulletproof’ still holds.

  • There is a song on the soundtrack, appropriately titled “Kiss”, that this scene is set to. By now, no words can do this scene justice, and I would simply recommend just watching it. On an unrelated note, all of the Five Centimeters per Second posts I have here are standardised to have sixty images each, compared to the variable number of images I had on my old website.

  • This is Takaki’s first kiss, and despite being a source of happiness, this is dampened by the feeling that they will in fact be separated.

  • Akari and Takaki spend the night in a small storage shed, huddled up together in an old single blanket they found on a shelf. This evening will prove to be magical, as the two converse under moonlight until they fall asleep. Someone from TV Tropes has suggested that the reason that Takaki is so depressed later on is that her parents forbade him from contacting her after this by phone or mail. This is wrong: they dropped out of contact simply because of time and space. By high school, Takaki’s focus was purely on his coursework and extracurricular activities so he could forget the despair.

  • Makoto Shinkai beautifully captures a winter sunrise in his art: One can feel both the cold and warmth in this image simultaneously. That reddish belt seen just above the mountains is known as the Belt of Venus, atmospheric phenomenon seen at sunrise and sunset arising from the backscattering of reddened light from the rising or setting Sun. I personally call it the Halo effect, for it reminds me of the lighting in the classic Halo: Combat Evolved mission Halo.

  • Despite only a short sleep, Akari and Takaki awaken the next morning. By now, the snow has stopped, and the two retrun to the station after finishing the remains of their tea. Both Akari and Takaki realise they will be separated from here on out. This departure comes across as sudden for both, and the sense of distance feels amplified.

  • Takaki decides against telling her about his letter, so Akari takes the initiative and says that he’ll be alright. These words will serve as encouragement to him in the future, and Takaki promises to write to her as often as possible once he leaves.

  • Akari assures Takaki that no matter what the future is, that he will be alright. I’ve heard that being said to me countless times, and now, I realise that these people are right. As long as there is effort and motivation, there is hope.

  • For those interested, the letter reads as follows:

To Takaki-kun.

How are you?

When we made that date, we never foresaw how snowy it would be today, did we? It looks like the train is late. That’s why I’ve decided to write this while I’m waiting for you.

There is a stove in front of me so it’s warm here. As always, I keep some writing paper in my bag so that I can write my letters at any time. I’m thinking of handing this to you later. So don’t arrive too early or I will be very much troubled. Please don’t hurry, take your time coming here.

It’s been a long time since we last met. It’s been eleven months. That’s why I’m actually feeling a little nervous just now. What will we do if we don’t recognise each other when we meet? But this place is so small compared to Tokyo so I don’t think that could possibly happen. But no matter how much I try to imagine what you look like in school uniform or soccer clothes, you seem like a stranger to me.

Hmmm, what else should I write? Oh, I know. I will start by giving my thanks. I will write down the feelings I had for you that I couldn’t convey properly. When I transferred to Tokyo in primary four I was really glad you were there. I was happy we became friends. If you weren’t there, school would have been much harder for me.

That’s why I really didn’t want to transfer to another school and part with you. I wanted to attend the same junior high school with you and grow up together. It was always what I had wished for. I’ve gotten used to my school now (so please don’t worry too much about me) but everyday, I would think to myself many times, “How much better would it be if Takaki-kun was here?”

I’m very sad that you will soon be moving to a much distant place. Even though we’re separated in between Tokyo and Tochigi, I have always thought to myself that, “Takaki-kun is within my reach.” I could always have taken the train right away to go see you. But this time, going to the other side of Kyushu is a bit too far for me.

From now on, I will have to learn how to live on well by myself, even though I’m not confident that I can. But I have to. Both you and I have to.

There’s another thing that I must tell you. I’m writing this down in this letter just in case I can’t say it out to you.

I love you. I can’t remember when I fell in love with you but very naturally, I had fallen in love with you before I knew it. The first time I met you, you were a strong and kind boy. You always protected me.

Takaki-kun, I’m sure you will be all right. No matter what happens, I know you will grow up to be a fine kind adult. No matter how far you go, I will always love you.

Please, please remember that.

  • Akari feels that circumstances now preclude her giving him the letter that she wrote, following the first kiss. Readers at least know what the contents of the letter are, thanks to the novel.

  • Takaki heads back home, ending this act and the first section to my reflection.

The Five Centimeters Per Second series of posts will constitute the largest posts I’ve made to date, constituting sixty images per post. They are a direct port of the sections I had on my older website and have been trimmed slightly. I’ve retained most of the images, cutting away those where I had not provided sufficient discussion the first time around. It’s been three years to the day I first saw Five Centimeters Per Second, and the first act, Cherry Blossom Extract was quite emotional in execution. Five Centimeters Per Second can be thought of as being composed of three distinct themes that corresponds with the setting, one for each act. Cherry Blossom Extract is filled with cold imagery, whether it be snowfall or gloomy skies, reflecting on Takaki’s sense of isolation in Akari’s absence. Through perseverance and patience, he reaches Togichi and meets up with Akari one final time, before they part ways forever: the end of act one is the last time the two meet, and the subsequent acts depict just how deep the wounds run for Takaki, who hasn’t moved on even though years have passed. With two years of distance between now and when I first wrote this post for my old website, a great deal has changed in my own life. For one, three years ago, I wasn’t certain of what I would do after I obtained my degree, but I have a better idea now. For the most part, I’ve retained most of the interpretations about the scenes from the website because those haven’t changed. However, there are some personal statements that differ because my Weltanschauung has changed substantially since I was a second year student. This trend will carry over to the remainder of the two acts that I will be discussing, although try to preserve the original text as much as possible, making revisions only as necessary.

4 responses to “Five Centimeters Per Second: Cherry Blossom

  1. WMC April 7, 2014 at 14:03

    Thanks ever so much for Akari’s letter.

    Like

  2. Annesha November 24, 2014 at 04:53

    awesome ^_^

    Like

  3. Lee Wai October 31, 2015 at 22:21

    I know its irrelevant at this point and you can call me nit-picky but judging from the timeline and how Jap schools operate they graduated from elementary at the age of 12 and shortly after that Akari moved. So one can assume that they spent around less then a year apart before their meeting at Iwafune station. I know its irrelevant but just though I’d point it out since you mentioned about them only meeting after “3 years” which kinda didn’t make sense. However all in all you gave a very good portrayal of this film. Good work.

    Like

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