“Maybe we tried to leave as much memories of ourselves with each other because we knew one day we wouldn’t be together any more.” —Five Centimeters per Second
Perhaps the most enduring of Makoto Shinkai’s movies, Five Centimeters Per Second remains a powerhouse performance even ten years after its original theatrical premiere in Japan back in 2007. Capturing audiences for its surprisingly blunt and unforgiving depiction of love and distance, as well as its unprecedented attention to detail in the artwork, Five Centimeters Per Second continues to endure as a film that moves its viewers with both thematic elements and visuals. In its first act, Five Centimeters Per Second depicts Takaki Tohno’s youth and fateful meeting with Akari Shinohari, with whom he develops a strong connection to as a result of their perceived similarities and interests. However, when Takaki is slated to move to the southern islands, he longs to see her one final time. Making an arduous trek by train, he meets her, and the two spend an evening together before parting ways. The second act depicts Takaki in his final year of high school on Tanegashima. He had befriended Kanae Sumida shortly after arrival, and she is head over heels for him but never finds the courage to make her feelings known to him. Realising that Takaki is eternally chasing something that she does not feel she can offer, Kanae decides to keep these feelings unspoken. In the final act, Takaki is shown to be longing for something that has become abstract by now. His former girlfriend realises this and breaks up with him, and he quits his job shortly after, feeling that even software development cannot distance him from his feelings. While taking a stroll on a pleasant spring day, he encounters someone who resembles Akari at a train crossing. Passing trains separate the two, and the woman has left, leaving Takaki to continue on his walk. As the different acts progress, the detail in which individual moments are portrayed gradually shorten: from the long stills and details of the first act to the fleeting scenery in the final act, Five Centimeters Per Second depicts the increased pacing of time that accompanies age. As events begin moving more quickly, Five Centimeters Per Second suggests that life itself is unforgiving; if one does not adapt their thinking to deal with this perceived change of pace, opportunity will disappear. Consequently, it is up to one to seize the initiative to make things happen rather than solely reminisce. While it takes Takaki some time to realise this, at Five Centimeters Per Second‘s end, the impact of having understood this leads Takaki to smile. Seemingly at peace, he continues walking on.
While nearly universally-acclaimed for its messages and execution, Five Centimeters Per Second has also left amongst some viewers a sense of vagueness concerning the movie’s final act. With its open ending, audiences were left wondering whether or not Takaki was truly happy as he turns away from the train station and continues his morning stroll. However, the acquisition of the artbook A Sky Longing For Memories has yielded the answers to this long-standing enigma. Inspection of the attendant text descriptions offer unparalleled insight into what is going on in each scene, and it turns out that very subtle colour differences in various scenes are meant to provide an additional clue as to what the characters are feeling. In the first act, greys and steel-blues dominate the scenes as Takaki’s despair grows while his train to Togichi is delayed in a snow storm. However, by the time he reaches Akari, the blues take on a gentler hue as the characters share a tender moment together. It is equally important that all of his flashbacks about the time he’s spent with Akari have a rose-gold hue, giving quite literally a rose-coloured view of his recollections to remind audiences that he cherishes these memories, almost to the point of over-emphasising their importance in his life. The second act is more audacious, boldly juxtaposing the dark evening colours Takaki is usually seen under with the bright daylight colours that Kanae surfs under to show that Kanae and Takaki are as different as night and day — she enjoys an active lifestyle that stands in contrast with Takaki’s brooding manner, and the rocket launch reinforces her own feelings that Takaki is seeking for something she cannot offer, by presenting a scene where the brightness of a rocket launch is overcome with shadow as the night settles in. Consequently, the colouration of the final act do much to answer the questions that the dialogue and montages alone do not offer: it opens up brightly, with the gentle colours of a spring day before returning to Takaki’s flashback. These flashbacks are dominated by darkness to mirror Takaki’s growing depression and melancholy. While his dialogue suggests he’s still yearning for Akari, there is no credit for partial answers; it is actually the combined pressure of work and trouble in opening up to Risa, his girlfriend, that impacts his well-being. By the time Takaki is shown on his walk, the colours of a spring day create a much more serene atmosphere. He’s recovering from his melancholy, and the hues in the scenes reflect this — rather than any symbolism in Takaki smiling lightly and proceeding with his stroll, the calm, gentle lighting speaks volumes about how he feels.
Screenshots and Commentary
- Even armed with A Sky Longing For Memories, finding the thirty images for this post proved much trickier than one might imagine: it was a herculean effort to ensure that no two images in this post were duplicated with any of the images from my older Five Centimeters per Second talk from November 2013. I will be exploring some of the things that A Sky Longing For Memories had given me insight to: this book offers information into the film beyond even my own comprehensive discussions. With this in mind, I am not going back and doing a 180-image post covering the whole of the movie again in this post: that would take more effort and time than I’ve got.
- A Sky Longing For Memories turned out to be an asset whose value is immeasurable, providing insights into Makoto Shinkai’s movies and revealing details that escape ordinary discussion. Here, in the Tōnō residence, a whiteboard can be seen in the background, with Takaki’s mother leaving messages for him. Already accustomed to solitude and distance, Takaki is unlikely to be fully aware of how lonely he is at an early age, and recently, I read an article about how upwards of sixty-five percent of students count themselves as lonely.
- Aside from more subtle details, A Sky Longing For Memories primarily focused on the development and colouration of different scenes in Five Centimeters per Second. In my original reviews, I was predominantly focused on dialogue and the characters’ actions; I imagine that other viewers were doing the same, since a large majority of the discussions came to similar conclusions about the movie.
- Thus, even though I’ve offered numerous, thorough discussions on my blog and old website far surpassing any discussions of the film, A Sky Longing For Memories provides a completely different perspective on Five Centimeters per Second. Libraries and bookstores stand as perhaps my favourite places to visit: when I go out, I gravitate towards whatever bookstore or library and can stay there for hours on end. Despite my enjoyment of anime and games, my true love lies in the tomes and volumes where entire worlds and adventures await.
- The English-language version of A Sky Longing For Memories is printed in Canada and became available in 2015. The original text was released in 2008, a year after Five Centimeters per Second. At the time, it was the complete compendium of all of his works until that point, describing the painstaking effort required to create each of the scenes in the quality that they appeared in. Even though it’s been ten years since Five Centimeters per Second, Shinkai’s artwork continue to retain a similar style to that present in this movie, although the advances of software like the Adobe Creative Suite has allowed Shinkai and his team to take the artwork of his latest movies further than previously possible.
- Makoto Shinkai’s use of trains permeates each of his works, and while he has no particular interest for a commonplace means of transport in Japan, he feels that their application, in bringing people to faraway destinations, is a romantic one. I can certainly understand this, even though my home city is not on the CN line — this decision was reached back in the city’s early days, and at present, logistics and cost preclude the possibility of a high-speed rail line between my city and the provincial capital, which is on the CN line.
- Whereas the scenes featuring an anxious Takaki were of a cold, unforgiving hue of blue as he awaits his train’s arrival in Iwafune, the lighting takes on a gentler, brighter colour once he arrives. This was intended to signify the change in mood amongst the characters, and that with the difficult trek behind him, audiences can relax and appreciate the tender moments between Akari and Takaki.
- While Akari is depicted as the sort of person whose sense of curiosity matched that of Takaki’s, not much else is known about her personality; Makoto Shinkai’s female characters of old project a sense of beauty and coldness not unlike J.R.R. Tolkien’s elves. Thus, beyond what little is shown of Akari’s character, audiences are given the sense that Takaki had fallen in love with something abstract. This stands sharp contrast with his female leads in and post Children Who Chase Lost Voices From Deep Below, where characters are flawed and distinct, to give them a more human sense.
- In the ten years since Five Centimeters per Second released, and with six years having passed since I first watched the film, loneliness and mental health has become a more widely-discussed topic owing to its increased reported prevalence. Ironically, while technologies such as instant-messaging, conversations and social media allow people to stay in touch, they also serve to isolate people from those closest to them. For this reason, I make it a point to hang out with my friends where possible, and also learn to accept my solitude.
- Their departure here is the last time Takaki and Akari see one another face-to-face in Five Centimeters per Second, and it brings to mind my first great love. The irony of it is that it parallels one of Takaki’s later experiences; like he, I delayed too long in making my feelings known, and a great physical distance separated us, giving someone else the chance to ask them out. Three orbital cycles around the sun later, the wounds have closed. Some measure of physical pain occurs whenever I hear about folks entering relationships or getting married, I remind myself that I can find happiness in different ways.
- The skyscape depicting a fantastical sunrise on an alien world are, in Makoto Shinkai’s own words, is a sky that he’s sure to exist somewhere in the vast universe. Long assumed to be the tower from The Place Promised in Our Early Days, A Sky Longing For Memories clarifies that this is an planetary ring, composed of small rocky and icy bodies similar to the ones that comprise Saturn’s rings. Shinkai notes that it’s meant to show Takaki’s love for the vast unknown, and with this knowledge, it is possible to shoot down any ill-conceived notions that the scenes signify “astronomical distance”.
- The island of Tanegashima offers an opportunity for Shinkai to depict verdant landscapes and endless blue skies that likely inspired the artwork in Everlasting Summer. I’ve played through the game once through on my iPad Air 2, although I’ve heard that this is the base version. There’s a complete edition available that seems to be worth playing, and on that note, I might just drop by the discuss Everlasting Summer at some point in the future.
- One of the curious bits of information in A Sky Longing For Memories is that, despite her monologues indicating her crush on Takaki, Kanae’s love of the outdoors is a healthy one that gives her motivation and drive. Mostly seen outdoors under the beautiful skies of Tanegashima, Kanae might not be fully aware of what her future entails, but she knows how to take care of herself and keep healthy even amidst the internal struggles she faces.
- By comparison, Takaki turns inward on this island, taking to composing long stories featuring himself and an unknown girl resembling Akari. This is what those scenes set on the alien worlds deal with, being a visualisation of the sort of message he writes while on his phone. To illustrate the dramatic differences between Takaki and Kanae, he is often seen in the shadows of the evening or night sky, while she is seen in full daylight.
- The Tanegashima Coffee and milk that Takaki and Kanae respectively purchase are based on real brands: they’re actually both under the same brand, “Daily Coffee”. I love the smell of coffee, as a good roast reminds me of the books at a bookstore, and the taste of coffee has always been appealing: I’m big on coffee-flavoured confectioneries and beverages (such as iced milk-coffee), but otherwise, I don’t drink coffee itself owing to the fact that it is a diuretic agent, as well as elevating my heart rate unnecessarily. Although I can work twice as fast under the effects of coffee, I become twice as agitated, twice as jittery and twice as likely to waste time in the bathroom.
- The differences in lifestyles means that, even when Kanae cannot properly express her feelings to Takaki, and her monologue reveals just how broken up she is about the knowledge that Takaki was seeking someone else, her love for the outdoors and surfing gives her something to focus on. In the manga, she becomes a nurse and even has her own suitor in the years hence. With time, Kanae becomes more confident, and she decides to visit Tokyo to find closure with her old feelings.
- While an uncommon sight, it is possible for rain to fall simultaneously with the moon visible, and the lighting of the sky in earlier scenes subtly hint at a rainfall later in the evening. By evening, Kanae contemplates what her future might entail, while Takaki reads through a magazine article describing the launch of a satellite probe travelling through space and wonders about the loneliness if the vacuum of space, if the probe does not even encounter hydrogen atoms on its journeys. While it is correct that in deep space, hydrogen does not exist as in the diatomic state, the vacuum of deep space has a density of around 0.1–1000 atoms/cm³, so Takaki’s remarks are probably meant to be taken in a figurative sense.
- Makoto Shinkai’s characters speak very eloquently in their monologues, almost in a poetic fashion that allow them to precisely articulate their feelings and circumstances. However, these thoughts tend to be more literal than metaphoric in nature and consequently, allow his characters to plainly express how they feel. Instead of dialogue, Shinkai tends to use his visuals and environments to express metaphoric elements, fully utilising the notion that “a picture is worth a thousand words” to present in detail his symbols and motifs.
- For Kanae, one of the pivotal moments in her act is finally being able to stand on her surfboard: under a vast blue sky, she feels that the conditions are ideal for her to take a shot at surfing. Cloud shadows and movements create the sense of motion, that for Kanae, her time has begun to flow in earnest; she manages to conquer the waves and knows that the time has come for her to make her feelings known to Takaki.
- Rather than the dreamscapes of Takaki’s imagination, A Sky Longing For Memories clarifies that the rocket launch is intended to represent the nature of Kanae’s unrequited love, punching through the atmosphere on its journey towards the stars. This unusual event on an otherwise ordinary day, depicting a body leaving the earth forever, mirrors the unreachable elements Kanae sees in Takaki.
- The largest misconception about Five Centimeters per Second arises as a consequence of the structuring in the final act. The opening scenes are of a light colour showcasing Tokyo on a pleasant spring day. Long associated with rebirth, Spring is a season where the world awakens from winter hibernation and brims with activity. Hope springs eternal most strongly in spring, and so, the different scenes here are meant to show a Takaki who is changing, recovering.
- As such, the conclusion that should be reached at the end of Five Centimeters per Second is that Takaki, while still bearing his memories and losses in his past, is turning things around. He is slowly moving onwards away from the intangible, and as the novel makes clear, Takaki is content with the present, no longer troubled by his lost relationships to the same extent as he is in the act’s intermediate sections.
- The NTT Docomo Yoyogi Building is visible in the left side of the image here. With a height of 272 meters including its antennae, it is the fourth tallest building in Tokyo, was finished in 2000 and is the world’s second tallest false clocktower. While my home city of just over a million is only a thirteenth of the size of Tokyo proper, the newest building under construction downtown is very nearly as tall as the NTT Docomo Yoyogi Building; dubbed Brookfield Place, this complex consists of two towers, with the taller of the two being 247 meters in height.
- The movie did not show this scene: Takaki dissolves into tears while walking home under the dark skyscrapers of Tokyo in the novel after receiving a message from Risa Mizuno, his girlfriend who is depicted in the third act and remains unnamed in the movie. The novel gives her as someone that Takaki met during work, and the two spend more time together. However, in a message from Risa, it turns out that she finds Takaki to be a bit distant and wonders if he really returns her feelings. This is a recurring theme in Five Centimeters per Second, and owing to the complexities of human nature, it is unfair to assume that Takaki is still longing for Akari after all this time.
- Instead, it seems that being less expressive of his feelings and a general trend towards being someone with few words is simply a part of Takaki’s personality. He finds it difficult to perceive how those around him feel, and his dedication to is work ends up being a detriment. The Takaki we see is determined, responsible and reserved, blaming himself for losing the people around him while simultaneously expressing a degree of insensitivity: he fits the traits of an ISTJ-type.
- Akari, through her cheerful letters and warm words to Takaki, unsurprisingly exhibits the characteristics of an INFP personality type. In an earlier simulation, I contended that ISTJ and INFPs can get along well enough in a relationship if some compromises are made (this is something necessary in all relationships). Of course, the Meyer-Briggs personality types are not the end-all for determining the outcome of a relationship: any two individuals in love with one another will find happiness together independently of their personality types if both partners are willing to compromise and walk the future together.
- In the “One More Time, One More Chance” montage, numerous scenes are shown, with some only appearing for a fifth of a second, to depict the passage of time. Despite this short duration (each scene only has around five to six frames), all of the stills are given the same attention to detail as do the longer scenes throughout the movie. Again, A Sky Longing For Memories is able to provide insight where even the most eagle-eyed reviewers failed to notice: for instance, the mailboxes that Akari and Takaki pass are shown to be on the opposite sides of the screen to reinforce the idea that their lives are quite separated.
- A Sky Longing For Memories emphasises that the different colours throughout Five Centimeters per Second mirror how Takaki feels. Whether it be the moody dark blues of his train journey to Iwafune, the dark skies he broods under in the second Act, the grays and deep blues following Takaki’s departure from his previous job or the refreshing, warmer colours in the film’s conclusion, each of these scenes are indicative of how Takaki himself is feeling.
- This forms the basis for my revised conclusion for the theme that Five Centimeters per Second ends up conveying: granted, love and distance are two extremities that can have a non-trival impact on one’s life, and it is certainly true that it is ultimately up to the individual to make the most of things. However, while there might be no conclusive “happy” ending, the ending is by no means tragic or pessimistic owing to the presentation of colour and through Takaki’s actions. Knowing the colours certainly changes the way I view Five Centimeters per Second and also dispels some of the criticisms I previously had about its ending. Thus, in response to this remark made by one “TinyRedLeaf”, who claimed that Five Centimeters per Second was Shinkai’s best film on virtue of its tragedy and costs:
I dislike happy endings in my choice of fiction, in general. I think happy endings are a lie that people actively seek because they can’t accept the shitty mess that is real life. I think good endings are the ones which realistically portray the cost of all their characters’ actions and why, in the end, the choices were worth it, despite what they gave up in exchange.
This is not only a narrow world-view demonstrating a complete lack of understanding of what it means to be human, but it also pre-supposes that our actions have no intrinsic value. In short, it is the basis for Nihilistic beliefs. People like happy endings not because they cannot accept reality, but because it offers a different way of looking at things, one that encourages compassion and empathy for other people. Not all actions necessarily have detrimental costs, and it is fortunate that folks like these are in the minority. There is good in the world, and it is worth fighting for.
- I’m wondering if Your Name‘s home release will be announced today in response to the fact that it’s the ten year anniversary of Five Centimeters per Second‘s original theatrical première back in 2007. It seems that 2017 is the ten year anniversary for many things (my first anime movie, the release of Gundam 00 and CLANNAD, as well as Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare), and with this in mind, there will be several relevant posts pertaining to these milestones in the near future. The next milestone will be for the Ah! My Goddess: The Movie; it marks the first anime movie I’ve ever watched in full, that got me into anime, and in a few weeks, it will have been exactly ten years since I saw this movie in my old high school’s anime club. Regular programming will precede this post: besides a talk for Sora no Woto‘s tenth episode, I’ve also got a second talk about Wildlands open beta, contrasting gameplay elements between it and its predecessor, last year’s The Division.
Ten years is a lot of time, and it does come as somewhat of a surprise that it’s been a decade since Five Centimeters Per Second was first screened in Japanese theatres. However, and perhaps with a degree of irony, themes of distance and time in Five Centimeters Per Second do not quite apply to the film itself, as it still holds a very strong impact on those who’ve seen it. This attests to the exceptional quality of Five Centimeters Per Second — I myself watched the film back in November 2010, on a day when malfunctioning HVAC at the university’s medical campus forced classes to end early, allowing me to go home early and work on an organic chemistry lab on caffeine extraction. I subsequently watched the movie, began wondering about my own prospects on the matters of the heart, and that possibly contributed to a difficult Winter 2011 semester that brought me to the brink of probation on account of a poor GPA. To have had such a substantial impact on me is a non-trivial matter, even if it was a hugely negative one — a film able to impact my world view to this extent is an impressive one, and as such, I count Five Centimeters Per Second as one of the best films I’ve had the opportunity to ever watch. Even a decade after its original release, there remain some individuals who have inquiries about what Five Centimeters Per Second is about — in the six years since I’ve seen the film for myself, I’ve also read the novel and manga. On top of this, I’ve got the artbook; the sum of these resources means that there are few enigmas in Five Centimeters Per Second left to pursue, and as such, I remain most willing to address any queries that other viewers may have about the film.