The Infinite Zenith

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Finding Takaki’s Answers in Five Centimeters per Second: One More Side, or, Insights From a New Perspective

“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.

Additional Remarks

  • 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.

A Sky Longing For Memories: Reflections on Five Centimeters Per Second At The Ten Year Anniversary

“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 ardous 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. Unlike the older review, whose images are hosted at the now-archived Picasa, all of the images in this post are full 1080p, and I will be exploring some of the things that A Sky Longing For Memories: this book offers insight 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 DaysA 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.

An open letter for April on Five Centimeters per Second: a short reflection on unrequited love

“Love is never lost. If not reciprocated, it will flow back and soften and purify the heart.” —Washington Irving

I just realised that the post’s title is quite lengthy, but it conveys exactly what this post is going to be about. It’s almost been eight months since I received this comment at my old website; back in August 2014, I discovered in my inbox what was the most moving comment I’ve received about some of the anime I’d written about. At the time, I was not sure I would be able to respond properly; isn’t exactly the world’s best platform for starting a conversation, and my heart was still feeling the burn from something that’d happened a mere four months earlier. However, the passage of time has allowed me sleep on things, go back, and provide a proper response for this comment, which I found to be very sincere and optimistic.

Hi! (^_^)

I just want to thank you.. Thanks much from the bottom of my heart. Your article about 5 cm per seconds really moved me especially now that I am feeling this way again. You are such a great writer and I bet, a very nice and sentimental guy as well just like Takaki. I can see it from the way you write. Just like you, I really love the movie.. It’s may favorite anime movie, perhaps for the reason that I can relate so much to the characters especially to Takaki and Kanae. Just to share, for the past six years, I’ve been trying to forget and let go of my first love just like Takaki but I never really had the chance to clearly express my feelings for him just like Kanae… Again, thank you and I really hope that you’ll meet the woman who is meant for you very soon (cause you’ve said that people are wondering why you´re still single up to the point of pressuring you … hehe! I understand the feeling.)

Truly, God bless and take care always!

APRIL (^_^)

  • Why an open letter? I feel that this is something that merits sharing; it gives my blog a more human side, that there’s a person writing out these reviews and articles, and that this person most definitely is not a machine.

April, I would like to first thank you for taking the time to comment on the Five Centimeters per Second article and for sharing your story. I also apologise for taking as long as I did to provide a suitable reply.

In perhaps a rather unfriendly twist of irony, after I rewrote the Five Centimeters per Second post for my blog, I experienced for myself the sort of feelings and emotions that Takaki had experienced. In this open letter, I will also share my story, which begins nearly three years ago, and while most of the details are lost to time, I recall that there had been someone who’d I grown closer to. At the time, I was preparing for an MCAT, and the exam’s daunting nature had in part been tempered because of this friendship; she’d been taking summer courses at the time, and through our conversations with one another, the pressure of our endeavours seemed to be alleviated. That summer came and went, and I entered the final year of my undergraduate program: I never considered expressing my feelings to her at the time because I had an honours thesis to defend and I so, I resolved to do so during the summer. Fate is curious, though; she was set to go on an exchange program, and asked me to ask again when she’d returned. That moment never came, and presently, a year has passed since the day when I understood the reality. Dealing with unrequited love is remarkably unpleasant, and although the literature maintains that it’s a noble thing, there is no escaping the fact that it is painful.

Now that a year has passed, I like to think that I’ve moved forward, and learnt a few things from this experience. It’s more than okay to allow the recovery process to take as long as one needs, whether it’s a week, month or year. With this being said, these feelings of melancholy or despair should not be allowed to overcome everything else; for this reason, the best remedy for that is simply to continue learning and doing new things so that we can continue to matter to people even when it looks like we might not matter to a person. Thus, even though losing someone I never really had is difficult, the attendant despair is not something that’s impossible to overcome. For the present, I’ve merely resolved to continue doing all of the things that I typically do, and allow fate to work its magic; granted, it’s possible to tip the odds, but with my friends and colleagues entering relationships or even marrying, I find that there’s still quite a bit I’d like to do as a single person before committing to a relationship. Tying in with your story, I can say that it’s important to understand why we feel the way we do about the people around us, but, love is one of those things that chance and luck seem to play a great part in, being something that just happens. Consequently, I’m quite certain that you’ll be able to meet the person just for you, as well.

Truth be told, while my Five Centimeters per Second articles are dated, the timeless, ethereal nature of love means that its contents still hold, and the film still moves me deeply because it’s something I can relate to. There’s the additional bonus that whenever I watch Five Centimeters per Second now, I am looking into a mirror: my path looks to be leading me to the same discipline that Takaki is working in. As such, Five Centimeters per Second becomes very personal a movie, but unlike Takaki, who the novels describe as allowing himself to be swept up by the currents, I (or at least, I like to) think that I play a more active role in determining my own future for the most part. Again, thank you for taking the time to respond to my Five Centimeters per Second article, and I wish you the best on your endeavours.


The Infinite Zenith

  • There will come a day when I will focus my efforts into creating a meaningful relationship with someone, but for now, I’ll take things one step at a time and focus inwards first, capitalising on the degree of freedom I’ve presently got. The way I see it, one could lament being single, and then be miserable, or they could look for new avenues to explore, and then, even if they’re still single afterwards, at least they’ve explored said new avenues and have another meaningful experience for the books.

Tokyo Region: Home of Five Centimeters per Second

It probably isn’t surprising that the artwork in Makoto Shinkai’s Five Centimeters per Second was inspired by real world locations in and around the Tokyo region, although as the collection of screenshots below attests, the level of detail is nothing short of impressive, and upon first glance, it is difficult to tell which of the images are from the anime, and which are the concept photos used to make the environments. This process is mentioned in one of Makoto Shinkai’s artbooks: titled Sora no Kioku, or Memories of the Sky, the artbook is a B5-sized, 175 page artbook that features stills from Makoto Shinkai’s works, as well as outline to computer graphics elements and techniques, such as how RGB, anti-aliasing, resolution, trace and flare play a role in the production process. The artbook also elaborates on hthe process behind how Makoto Shinkai converts photographs of real-world locations into the settings depicted in his films.

Besides showcasing artwork from Five Centimeters per Second, The Place Promised in Our Early Days and Voices from a Distant Star, the book goes into various details underlying scene composition, providing some of Shinkai’s insights and images of the locations that inspired a scene paired with section of the script. In particular, Shinkai explains how his team uses Mac OS X, Adobe Photoshop and After Effects to turn the concept art into scenes for the film. As each of the artists render the images, they select particular colour palettes to appropriately convey a particular season, weather, time and temperature to ensure that everything is consistent. The end result are the balanced, detailed, photo-realistic images that viewers enjoy in films bearing the Makoto Shinkai style.

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)