Anime Vice News

Chibi Review: 5 Centimeters Per Second

Makoto Shinkai's 2007 three-part drama will make the sensitive bawl and let the emotionally numb feel feelings again.

Sometimes I feel like a psychic angel of death when it comes to anime directors. While I realize that expression makes me sound like the leader of some Southern California-based doomsday cult I ask that you reserve judgement until hearing me out. The first anime director man-crush I ever had back in the '90s was Studio Ghibli's Yoshifumi Kondo due to his stunning directorial work on Whisper of the Heart, not to mention many other titles. He died of an aneurysm in 1998 at the age of 47. Perfect Blue and Millennium Actress director Satoshi Kon then became my next favorite. He died last month of cancer at the age of 46. Pulling up a close second behind Kon, I have a great admiration for up-and-coming director Makoto Shinkai, but am reluctant to make any official statement of favoritism lest the spiteful gods grant him gangrene in all four limbs. He is, however, pretty damn awesome. 
Shinkai made a huge splash in the anime world back in 2002 with the release of Voices of a Distant Star, a title that he wrote, produced and directed in seven months all on his own using readily available animation and editing software. As if creating this work solo wasn't impressive (not to mention inspirational) enough, the end product was also really, really good. He followed this up in 2004 with the feature-length sci-fi drama The Place Promised in Our Early Days and the results were again fabulous. In 2007 Shinkai moved away from sci-fi and worked with a full animation staff to produce 5 Centimeters Per Second, a pure drama in three parts that focused on love, distance and the inexorable march of time. During last week's J-Pop Week in San Francisco I was fortunate enough to attend a theatrical screening of the film sponsored by Crunchyroll at the New People theater and boy, did it ever put me in a state for the rest of the evening. 


Storytelling that takes place over long periods of time with wide gaps between narrative threads can be daunting. What occurs during the gaps, after all, can define the characters just as much as the on-screen events. Shinkai, however, is a master of this kind of narrative--he seems to revel in it, even--having twice before capably risen to the task of such a format. Covering three main characters and approximately fifteen years in an hour-long film, 5 Centimeters is ambitious and somehow entirely able to convey the personalities and circumstances of this trio as if we'd been privy to all the intervening years. 
Along the way we're treated to some of the most gorgeous animation and background artwork I've ever seen. Though it employs few fast-paced scenes (people running, a little surfing, etc.) the footage was still remarkably fluid and smooth, with the scenery damn near photo-realistic in urban settings and imbued with an almost watercolor painting feel when nature is the backdrop. One scene in particular struck me as especially well done: Takaki's first act train ride to visit Akari. Stuck on a snow-delayed rural train outside Tokyo the teen's anxiety and helplessness as he plods toward his destination, hours overdue, is palpable. The desolation outside the train's window makes the journey all the more nerve-wracking. Just one example of consistently good story and art direction. 


Is there anything bad to say about this film? My only criticism isn't really even that, it's more of a backhanded compliment: the movie's too effective at expressing what it wants to and thus, at only 63-minutes, is too short. Furthermore, in that short span, it will dredge of up memories of love unrequited and ambitions unfulfilled, resulting in the distinct possibility of leaving you a quivering, emotional wreck. 



5 Centimeters
 is a masterpiece not only of animation, but of dramatic storytelling as well. It's short, but (bitter-)sweet three-part character-driven tale has to the power to inspire as much as send you into an introspective spiral--and despite how it sounds, that's a compliment. I mean, if the hallmark of an effective movie is that it imbues an emotional response in the audience, mission accomplished and then some.
Multiple critics and commentators are calling Shinkai "the next Miyazaki" and while I agree he's extremely good, I'm going to wait for his next film--an as-yet-untitled story of a girl on a journey that sounds very Ghibli-esque--before jumping on that particular bandwagon. In the meantime, watch this movie!
JJOR64on Sept. 20, 2010 at 4:11 p.m.
Looks interesting.  May have to check it out sometime.
Dream moderator on Sept. 20, 2010 at 4:23 p.m.
Anyone notice a common theme with Shinkai's works: they always focus around the theme of long-distance relationships (Voices of a Distant Star had a distance of time and planets apart, Place Promised in our Early Days had the couple being a dimension apart, 5 cm has the couple growing apart over distance and time)?
InfiniteGeasson Sept. 20, 2010 at 4:38 p.m.
I really enjoyed the movie when I watched it and would purchase it, but it's really expensive to buy. I don't think they made to many DVDs...
Dream moderator on Sept. 20, 2010 at 5:17 p.m.
@InfiniteGeass:  The ADV release was only out for several months before they halted all distribution to it. Crunchyroll snagged licensing rights to the movie and they will be releasing it on video in a couple weeks. Bandai's online store is accepting pre-orders for the DVD now and it's selling for almost $18.
nVisionon Sept. 20, 2010 at 5:31 p.m.
I still remember the amazing art in the movie. The landscaping was absolutely incredible and it really made the movie come to life. 
Boddingtonon Sept. 20, 2010 at 7:24 p.m.
@nVision: There's a whole "anime tourism" industry popping up around Japan these days for real places that appear in television and film animation. I would certainly like to visit some of the places featured in 5 Centimeters, particularly Tanegashima and its space center.
InfiniteGeasson Sept. 20, 2010 at 9:42 p.m.
@Dream:  Cool. Thank you for the information.
GrandMarshalon Sept. 21, 2010 at 8:44 a.m.
This movie is depressing... in a  good way... if there is such a thing
lizcaton Sept. 21, 2010 at 9:19 a.m.
I'm dying to see this... 
BustedAngelon Sept. 21, 2010 at 3:59 p.m.
@JJOR64 it is a really good movie. I really enjoyed it. It's like a love tale but even as a guy I liked it. I would recommend it.

Dig Deeper into 5 Centimeters Per Second

Three heartbreaking stories about longing and lost loves.

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