The Infinite Zenith

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

Five Centimeters Per Second: Final Impressions

Looking back, I can decisively consider Five Centimeters per Second  to be the show that revitalised my interests in anime. By late 2010, besides Gundam Unicorn, I had stopped watching anime and was simultaneously experiencing an immensely difficult academic term. It’s been some three years since that day in late November, and through some of my experiences, some of my impressions regarding Five Centimeters per Second have changed. For one, I no longer see Five Centimeters per Second as a cynical, bitter perspective on reality as I once did, and as such, approach each of the three acts with a far more optimistic mindset.

  • There’s an ethereal quality about this image that words cannot describe: it is one of the scenes in Takaki’s recurring dreams of him and Akari.

Five Centimeters per Second differed from much of the anime I’d seen up to that point, and from the anime I would subsequently pick up afterwards, in that it depicted one outcome of unrequited love as sapping away a young man’s spirit, being a force for which there was no magic-bullet solution. Compared to his previous films, Five Centimeters per Second is set in the real world. There are no science fiction elements as with Voices of a Distant Star and The Place Promised in Our Early Days. Divided into three distinct acts, Five Centimeters per Second tells a self-contained story illustrating Takaki Tohno’s life. Through the vivid imagery and concise use of dialogue, the atmosphere and situations paint a picture of the idyllic days Takaki spent with Akari, the desolation he feels when they are separated, and his subsequent inability to mind his present surroundings. Five Centimeters per Second comes to a close with an open-ended final act: after illustrating various points in Takaki and Akari’s life, whether or not Takaki is able to overcome his previous feelings for Akari is left ambiguous. I myself was left with mixed feelings after finishing the anime, but had the fortune to read the novel. This substantially cleared up the vagueness, and as such, I personally find that the execution of an open ending is most similar to real life in that we are not always completely certain of what tomorrow will bring.

  • Train imagery is featured prominently in the first and final act. They typically symbolise places of meetings, and places of farewell, setting the stages for beginnings and endings. While some Victorian-era works paint trains as the human tendency to destroy nature. In Makoto Shinkai’s case, he uses them to represent places of meetings and a means of connecting hearts together.

  • Three years to the day I wrote my original Five Centimeters per Second, I can proudly say my toes aren’t freezing.

Before I explore the execution of what was one of the most unique I had seen up until that point, I will take discussion towards the graphics. In general, settings in anime are reasonably clean and well-drawn, but Five Centimeters per Second takes things in a different direction. Even compared to his previous films, Makoto Shinkai makes extensive use of detail, especially in his interior shots. There is clutter and personal effects fill living spaces. No other anime even comes close in level of detail (even some six years after its release), save Makoto Shinkai’s own works. The attention paid to detail confers a sense of immersion and makes the experience come to life. Whether it is watching the lens flare of a light in the camera or the ripples across a still body of water, attention is paid to each individual detail. The colours and lighting are fabulous; in its most mundane form, it looks photo-realistic, while at other times, even rivals the most spectacular of real-world phenomenon. Watching Five Centimeters per Second at anything less than 720p wouldn’t do its artwork justice any more than playing a game at low settings.

  • The three distinct acts to Five Centimeters per Second all have different atmospheres and colourations, but are unified by a single thematic element.

  • It’s been a very long time since I last stood in a high school classroom: for me, high school represented a stepping stone towards the future. I have fond memories of doing coursework with my friends, sharing lunch hours together and in fact, was introduced to anime by my high school’s anime club.

If there is a single take-away message from Five Centimeters per Second, it is that this film successfully makes use of a realistic (if somewhat pessimistic) approach in its love story. Things don’t work out, distances grow and melancholy reigns. The first act is among one most moving I’ve ever seen in an anime. While flashbacks make the flow of events a little difficult to follow, the first act does succeed in portraying Takaki’s thoughts and feelings, carefully combining dialogue and imagery. This is essentially the high point of the movie with respect to relationships; events in the following acts are more melancholic in nature. By the end of the movie, while this aspect seems to be missed, Takaki does realise that he can move on and make the most of his current circumstances. On the whole, the plot is sufficiently well-structured to be understood and enjoyed, although the inclusion of the montage at the end may be a little confusing. This detracts from the impact of the ending, making things less enjoyable than it could be, and necessitates that one pick up the novel to gain a little more background.

  • When I was younger, the subdivisions in my city were not so expansive, and I could see magnitude six stars without binoculars. Today, at least four kilometers of subdivision separate me and the city’s edge, and the sky is eternally blotted out by the bright lights in the city.

  • Thus ends my series of posts on Five Centimeters per Second. I hope that being posted here means that these posts will be easier to find, and therefore, more accessible to readers who sought to get a little more from the anime. As a thank-you for having read all of these posts, I have supplied a link to the soundtrack below.

Five Centimeters per Second‘s main plot element was the depiction of Takaki’s life as he matures: many viewers will strongly relate to Tohno’s increasing control over his life as he matures, and also come to reflect on their own goals and objectives in life. The final point of the story is a simple and profound one: that opportunities should always be seized when the time is right, and that regardless of success or failure, one should always be willing to let go and move on. Five Centimeters per Second has a rather more mature feel to it relative to most of the other anime I have seen or are likely to see; for me, this is what stands out about the movie. Unlike most stories, there is no defined happy ending, which leaves the viewers to pick up the pieces long after they’ve turned off their Blu-ray player. I say Blu-ray because this is how the movie should be watched to fully enjoy it: when it was released, it represented Makoto Shinkai’s most beautifully animated work to date (Children Who Chase Lost Voices from Deep Below and Garden of Words were released in 2011 and 2013, respectively, and match it in visual quality). Attention and care is given to every minute detail, ranging from the lens flare of a sunset to the LCD crystals on a cell phone. It is subtleties like these that make the movie worth watching, although the movie could stand on its own virtues independent of the art. The story is a simple, yet heart-moving one, speaking of love, separation and time. Takaki narrates the events of the first and third chapters. in a brutally honest manner and explains things exactly as they are, giving the viewers a sense of connection to his character and experiences. Through his eyes, viewers see him mature and come to the eventual understanding that life is about making the most of opportunity and while memories should be cherished, there also exist the possibility of making new ones: it is up to the individual to take that initiative and make this happen.

The Five Centimeters per Second Soundtrack

The soundtrack to Five Centimeters per Second is composed by Tenmon, who also composed the scores to Makoto Shinkai’s previous works. The soundtrack evokes a sense of beauty, wistfulness and melancholy simultaneously, but beyond that, I can’t really find the words to describe it: it must be heard to be enjoyed to its fullest extent.

Track list

  1. Cherry Blossom Extract
  2. Distant Everyday Memories
  3. Irritation
  4. Snow’s Station
  5. Kiss
  6. Feeling of Power
  7. Dream
  8. Poem of Sky and Sea
  9. The Feeling that Doesn’t Reach
  10. End Theme
  11. One More Time, One More Chance (Piano version)

11 responses to “Five Centimeters Per Second: Final Impressions

  1. Zephuros December 28, 2013 at 09:27

    Being honest here..I’ve just finished watching all of Shinkai Makoto’s works….
    I do not enjoy this 5 cen >_>”, mainly because its romance (I’m not a romance guy xD”), I enjoy its scenary CG and music as always though
    Hoshi no Koe was a bit confusing for me at first (felt like watching something in the middle or watching its last ep), but the mecha battles was really good for a very old animation back then.
    Beyond the Clouds was not much enjoyable yet again because of its romance-centered.. I was a bit confused at its ending though (and mainly for its quantum physics of the story).
    I prefer the romance/story as in Kotonoha no Niwa, dunno, I felt it’s ok with this one.
    I enjoyed Hoshi wo Ou Kodomo the most – its adventure and action added (and I actually cried a bit during its climax at the end…LOLs)
    p.s. still waiting for your Coppelion review😀 *have my eyes on your blog*
    —–
    btw, have you watched Sword of the Stranger yet?

    Like

    • infinitezenith December 30, 2013 at 16:54

      Five Centimeters per Second (and by extension, most of Makoto Shinkai’s works prior to 2007) tend to be stories where romances fall to time and space. They’re not for everyone, and that is perfectly okay. If I may be so bold, I personally think you found more enjoyment in Children who chase lost voices from deep below (2011) and The Garden of Words (2013) simply because by this point, Shinkai has refined his craft to produce stories with a much more decisive tone. This is most apparent in the latter, of course.

      In response to the non-Five Centimeters per Second queries, I’ve finished Coppelion and will probably get around to posting a reflection within 24 hours: I’ll draft that one as soon as I finish porting the Gundam 00: A Wakening of the Trailblazer reflection here from my old site. As for Sword of the Stranger, I have not seen it yet. I don’t recall being recommended it, although a cursory glance suggests that I might very well enjoy it, so I will keep your suggestion in my mind for a rainy day.

      Like

      • Zephuros December 31, 2013 at 11:41

        Yes please do so (with everything you said there xD)
        No need to rush… take time, I have my plans to update my blog in Dec.. and here I am sitting in Jan still watching anime/playing games and not finishing any of my blog plans…lol xD”
        As for anime movies, I really highly recommend SotS, especially if you love fighting scenes (the story is good too). If there’s no 3D animation (FF7, .hack, RE, etc) this anime movie would have definitely be my most favorite xD

        Like

  2. wandkcarhart June 12, 2014 at 21:28

    Very well done! I think I’ve read all your work on “5 Cm” and enjoyed all of it, especially your command of English, which as you know, is rare on the net.

    However, as with all great art, “5 centimeters per Second” evokes a great variety of responses from viewers, and for me, Takaki’s last-seen expression does not signify personal advancement for him, or even resignation. He’s spent a lifetime regretting the loss of Akari, and refusing to put that regret on hold in order to connect spiritually with anyone else. Even with very lovable ladies like Kanae. Moreover, he DOES NOT pursue Akari at the end of the movie after the train passes, as any man would. I don’t see that as resignation. That’s just more of Takaki’s cowardly inability to act in the face of his fear of rejection, even though it was gloriously obvious, even to him, at the beginning of the story that Askari did love him. He never did tell her of his love! The lost letter at the train station is very significant. He never rewrites it. He never does get it that love can transcend time and space. He’s always been that way, and it’s Mr. Shinkai’s main theme: the inability to act courageously at the point of opportunity can be agonizingly tragic.

    That’s why “5 Centimeters per Second” brands the viewer so deeply. It certainly has me, and though I’m an optimistic hunter genotype, I’ve never seriously doubted the tragedy of Takaki. And especially of Kanae. And Shinkai’s fabulous graphics carry that message so unbeatably well.

    Like

    • infinitezenith June 12, 2014 at 22:06

      It’s good to hear you enjoyed both the film and the discussion, and it’s quite refreshing to hear alternative perspectives on a film. Different viewers will experience things differently, and indeed, I rather enjoy hearing what others have to say about a particular film.

      Your perspective, that Takaki’s fear of rejection is ultimately costs him, is one I can increasingly relate to in light of recent events. The subsequent melancholy was quite unlike anything I’d ever experienced. Five Centimeters per Second had struck me as a good anime since I saw it back in 2010, but I was most naive in thinking that I would not experience such things so quickly. Perhaps it is callous of me to say so, but I now believe that the only way to really get over heartbreak is to take another chance and find someone else. These elements are perfectly captured in Five Centimeters per Second, although watching it now will probably reopen the wounds.

      Love is something that transcends time and space, but only if it is reciprocated, and life is a ceaseless journey towards seeking this sort of understanding. I think that the themes explored in Five Centimeters per Second definitely merit further consideration, and again, I welcome alternative perspectives that provoke thought, especially when they’re thoughtfully written.

      Like

  3. wandkcarhart June 12, 2014 at 21:35

    My first time on your site. Did my scrawl get there? I may have hit “log out” by mistake! Sorry for the bother. (WMC)

    Like

  4. artoria_pendragon September 14, 2016 at 12:59

    Hi! I’m new to your blog but I like your anime reviews! Since we’re on the subject of Makoto Shinkai’s works, I would just like to recommend a short – Dareka no Manazashi. It’s rather steeped in his usual nostalgia, but its more heartwarming than most of his works (in my opinion). You should check out the insert song “Sore de Ii yo”, it’s a really sweet song🙂

    Like

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