“Reality is brimming over with beautiful things, brilliant feelings. How many of them have I been missing?” –Takaki Tohno
Until now, the final act of Makoto Shinkai’s Five Centimeters per Second remained a bit of an enigma, leaving viewers with questions about Takaki Tohno and his ultimate fate. The animated film, which premièred in 2007, had three acts that detail a different stage of Takaki’s life, from the moment that he met Akari Shinohara and their falling in love, to when he moves back to Tokyo as an adult. The existing misconception is that since meeting Akari, Takaki had never been able to truly let go of her when they separated, and this in turn negatively impacted his ability to connect with those around him in the present, whether it be the athletic and cheerful Kanae Sumida, or Risa Mizuno, a lady he meets through work. The claim that “Takaki still longs for Akari to the detriment of his lifestyle” and that he is “unable to cope with his feelings for Akari” persist even after a decade has passed since its premièred. Five Centimeters per Second‘s third act does indeed show Takaki as being downcast and depressed, but one spring day, when he decides to take a walk under the morning sun to clear his mind from his tasks, he has a seemingly chance encounter with Akari. As he turns around to look back, a train passes through; once the train passes, Akari has gone, but Takaki merely smiles and continues with his walk. This dramatic contrast appears to contradict the gloom and misery that Takaki had experienced earlier, leaving viewers to wonder why a glimpse of Akari would be enough to undo the loneliness Takaki was suffering. While the film left many aspects ambiguous, creating a highly poignant message amongst viewers who incorrectly counted the film where “that actually resolving things was never the point”, supplementary materials, taking the form of two novels and one manga, provided an answer to these otherwise forgotten questions, where analysts and reviewers had originally been forced to conclude that the story’s outcome was “ambiguous”.
In particular, the novel One More Side is of great worth in helping to determine what Five Centimeters per Second sought to accomplish with its story. Originally published in 2011, and receiving an English language publication only in 2019, One More Side presents the Five Centimeters per Second story from different perspectives. The first act is told from Akari’s point of view, painting her as being quite shy and finding solace in Takaki’s kind and reliable company. The second act shows that Takaki was actually quite directionless during his time as a high school student and, while the film may not have shown it, he found himself wishing to be closer to Kanae. The third act shows how his past regrets only occasionally haunt him, and his inability to connect with others stems more from his personality of wanting to push forwards no matter the cost. At work, Takaki thus suffered through difficult deadlines and unyielding product managers who were unsympathetic to what his suggestions were. This placed a great deal of stress on Takaki, and ultimately led him to break up with Risa. Reading through these new perspectives, it becomes clear that Takaki is not pining for Akari per se, but rather, the melancholy he has stems from being unable to properly find his footing at work. These are subtle details that the film conveys through its use of colour: by the time Takaki becomes a freelance developer, the blues and grays dominating the palette are replaced with the brighter hues of spring, indicating his improved well-being. This comes with him finding the freedom to work at his own pacing and take control of life; Takaki hints throughout One More Side that he dislikes losing control of his situation, stemming from the fact that he’d moved numerous times as a child. His dissatisfaction with his old job thus came from lacking the control to make decisions for the better, and by becoming a freelance developer, being able to set his own hours, pacing and clients afford him with the control that he sought from life.
- I vaguely remember one reader asking me if I had read One More Side a ways back, but at the time, I did not have access to this. So, when I’d learnt that One More Side was actually available at a local bookstore, I hastened to pick my copy up. The book, classified as a light novel, offers insight into Five Centimeters per Second that even the novel adaptation of the movie and manga do not possess: it is an essential read for anyone who wishes to get more out of their experience with Five Centimeters per Second. Spanning 240 pages, I bought One More Side a few days before midsummer’s eve along with the first two volumes of Harukana Receive‘s manga, and read through it over the past few months.
- The biggest takeaway from One More Side‘s first act is that Akari was very much drawn to Takaki for his kindness and fondness for books. As a transfer student, Akari found herself unable to fit in with other students, and found solace with Takaki, who similarly found it tricky to relate to others. Their common interest in the sciences brought them together, and both had envisioned spending their time as middle school students together, although this was cut short, and Akari felt as badly as Takaki did about their helplessness in the situation. With the newfound information, I hope that folks looking for something like “5 Centimeters Per Second ending explained” or similar will find this post useful.
- Besides the myths that Anime News Network perpetuates about Five Centimeters per Second that have made their way to Wikipedia and other tertiary sources, speculation at places like Tango-victor-tango can leave folks with conflicting, contradictory information. For instance, some fans at tango-victor-tango speculate that Akari’s parents were completely disapproving of Takaki. One More Side gives no indicator to suggest that this is true whatsoever, and instead, the reason for their lack of contact once Takaki moved to Tanegashima was simply because their lives were becoming busier to the point where sending mail no longer was practical.
- In One More Side‘s second act, Takaki’s perspective is given in great detail; while the film presented him as seemingly in control of his life, which impresses Kanae, it turns out he’s about as lost as she is, but has a different way of showing it. The novel also confirms that the girl in his dreams is not Akari, but rather, an abstraction of someone he wants to be with; Takaki entertains thoughts that it would be nice if this were Kanae. With this, a long-standing question is addressed, and there’s one fewer ambiguity for folks to deal with. Takaki’s thoughts on Kanae are also provided in greater detail, and it suggests that he was actually hoping to get to know her better.
- With everything said and done, One More Side is an indispensable read for anyone who enjoyed Five Centimeters per Second but felt shafted by the ending. The fact that there’s an official English translation now means that the story is more accessible overall. It’s taken twelve years for all of the pieces to fit into place, and One More Side provides the insights that fans deserve. This short post is now in the books, and I expect the next time I will be writing about Makoto Shinkai will be for Tenki no Ko, which released in July and for which the home release still remains unknown.
While Five Centimeters per Second is largely counted as a love story, it is more appropriate to approach it as a drama about life in general, and specifically, about control (or lack thereof) of one’s situation. The speed at which cherry blossoms fall, then, becomes not merely a metaphor about falling in love and falling out of love, but about how people’s fates are as transient and fragile as the cherry blossom, whose downward trajectories are stochastic and dependent on things like wind, which the cherry blossom petal itself is powerless to influence, much less control. Makoto Shinkai mentions this in other materials, adding credence to the idea that Five Centimeters per Second‘s theme is more broad than that of a love story. The ending scene where Takaki reaches reaches the train crossing on that spring day and encounters Akari, has a simple and profound explanation: Takaki smiles because he feels contentment at being able to fulfil his original promise to Akari. Their original promise, to see the cherry blossoms together again, is to be taken in a literal sense; viewers analysing the scene have over-scrutinised everything in Five Centimeters per Second and somehow ended up with the conclusion that seeing the cherry blossoms together was a poetic metaphor for getting married and spending their futures together. However, One More Side shows that Takaki’s memory is quite keen, and his smile comes from having satisfied their original promise, whereupon Takaki realises that he’d always had the initiative to take charge of his situation. The additional insights offered by One More Side allows audiences of Five Centimeters per Second to gain closure regarding Takaki, who unambiguously leaves the novel feeling happier, more content and ready to take on the future. In other words, after more than twelve years since Five Centimeters per Second premièred in Japanese cinema, the answer to whether or not Takaki got a happy ending is a resounding, decisive and well-deserved yes.