Anime Film Review: 5 Centimeters per Second

5 Centimeters per Second is an anime film directed by Makoto Shinkai, and it was released to Japanese theaters on March 3, 2007. ADV Films was the first company to hold the North American distribution rights for the film, and the company released it on DVD in March 2008. On July 11, 2008, ADV announced it was discontinuing print of the DVD. The film was redubbed by Bang Zoom! Entertainment as the request of the original Japanese distributor, and this new dub was streamed on Crunchyroll on February 28, 2009. Crunchyroll, working with Bandai Entertainment, re-released the film in North America on DVD on February 22, 2011.

5 Centimeters per Second
Directed by: Makoto Shinkai
Written by: Makoto Shinkai
Starring: Kenji Mizuhashi, Yoshimi Kondou, and Satomi Hanamura
Run Time: 63 minutes
Rated: TV-PG

5 Centimeters per Second is broken out into three acts: “Cherry Blossom,” “Cosmonaut,” and “5 Centimeters per Second.” The main character is all three sections of the film is a young man named Takaki Tono.

“Cherry Blossom” sees Takaki meeting a girl named Akari Shinohara when she transfers to his elementary school. Due to having similar interests, they grow to be rather close friends. When they graduate from elementary school, Akari moves to Tochigi due to her parents’ jobs. Takaki and Akari keep in touch by writing letters to each other. When Takaki his family will be moving to Kagoshima, he makes the decision to go and personally see Akari, because they will be too far apart to visit each other after his move. Unfortunately, it starts snowing when he heads out, and the weather causes various delays for the trains he has to take to get to where Akari is. And to top it off, a letter he had spent time composing to tell Akari his feelings blows away in the wind during one of his stops. But after this adversity, Takaki finally reaches the station that Akari is supposed to meet him at.

Of the three acts of 5 Centimeters per Second, I felt that “Cherry Blossom” was the strongest. During this section, Shinkai does a very good job of establishing the characters and the story, and the viewer becomes emotionally invested in Takaki as he goes through the weather delays during his train travels. As a viewer, I was rooting for Takaki to make it to the station and be able to see Akari.

The one thing I didn’t entirely like during “Cherry Blossom” is that during the early scenes, the audience gets to hear Akari’s letters to Takaki, since this is the dialogue that is heard as a voice-over. As a viewer, I would have also liked to have been able to hear Takaki’s letters in response to her. With the way this was done, it felt rather “one-sided.”

“Cosmonaut” is the second act of 5 Centimeters per Second, and at this point, the story has moved ahead in time to Takaki’s third year of senior high in Tanegashima. Kanae Sumida, a girl in his class, fell in love with Takaki ever since she met him in middle school; unfortunately, she doesn’t have the courage to confess her feelings. She tries to find ways to spend time with him, but Takaki seems to be oblivious of Kanae’s feelings; he ends up treating her like a friend. Kanae notices Takaki writing emails to someone or staring off into the distance like he’s looking for something. Kanae comes to the realization that Takaki is looking for something much more than she can offer.

Overall, I didn’t think this act was nearly as strong as “Cherry Blossom.” The biggest problem to me is the fact that Kanae’s feelings for Takaki weren’t really developed as much as they could have been. We learn that back in middle school, she thought Takaki was really cool. But now that time has passed, it seems like her only motivation for liking Takaki is that he’s “cool.” In the intervening years, shouldn’t there perhaps be additional reasons why she likes him besides simply being cool? Perhaps Shinkai didn’t develop the motivation for Kanae to continue being in love with Takaki as much as he could have. In the long run, I really didn’t care for Kanae as a character as much as I did Takaki and Akari, and I just couldn’t connect with her.

“5 Centimeters per Second” is the final act of the film, and Takaki and Akari are now both adults. Takaki is a computer programmer, and he is still longing for Akari. He’s close to having a breakdown and leaving his job. Akari, meanwhile, is preparing to get married to another man, and finds a letter addressed to Takaki as she goes through her old possessions. These two characters have a dual narration.

Of the three acts, I thought this one was probably the weakest. The overall story in this act didn’t feel very cohesive, it could be a little confusing to follow, and I wasn’t entirely satisfied with the ending. The ending felt rather ambiguous, and I wasn’t entirely convinced that the overall story had truly been resolved.

While I thought some of the storytelling in 5 Centimeters per Second wasn’t as strong as it could have been, that doesn’t mean that it’s a bad film. The animation is very nice to look at, and it does help to distract the viewer from the storywriting issues to some extent. After watching the film, my husband and I both agree that Shinkai definitely spends a lot of time on the art in this film, but that perhaps he was spending a little too much time on the art and not enough time on the story. Of the three Shinkai films I have seen to date, all three of them start out with a very strong story and concept, but the strength of the story tends to fall apart near the end. While The Place Promised in Our Early Days wasn’t quite as bad on that front, there was still a little bit of that issue in that film.

When it comes to the DVD that ADV Films released, there were a few bonus features. The first us “The Making of 5 Centimeters per Second Photo Montage”; this runs for five minutes, and includes photos from location hunting, the production site, after recording, music recording, ads, the premiere, etc. This is a pretty decent “behind the scenes” feature.

Next is an interview with Makoto Shinkai. This lasts for 36 minutes, and he talks about the origin of the film’s title, the connected story style, the theme song, about the casting, notable happenings during recording, the production system for the movie, about location hunting, notable happenings during production, and the depiction of the scenery. This was presented with Japanese audio and English subtitles.

There were also interviews with the Japanese voice cast: Kenji Mizuhashi, Yoshimi Kondo, Satomi Hanamura, and Ayaka Onoue. Each one lasts for about 9-10 minutes, and like the Shinkai interview, they have Japanese audio with English subtitles. In addition to these, there are also ADV Previews and DVD credits.

As I said, 5 Centimeters per Second isn’t necessarily a bad film, but my husband and I really aren’t in a hurry to track this down and add it to our anime library. However, if you’re a fan of Makoto Shinkai’s work and don’t already own a copy of 5 Centimeters per Second, it might be worth trying to track down a used copy of the film in order to add it to your anime library.

I wrote this review after watching a copy of 5 Centimeters per Second that I checked out through the King County Library System.

Additional reviews of Makoto Shinkai’s work:

One comment

  1. The Lotus War · September 12, 2013

    I keep wanting to read the manga, but getting side tracked. It does look very pretty.

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