Speed=Distance/Time: 5 Centimetres Per Second
Have you ever seen or heard something so depressing that you can't even cry? That, my friends, is '5 Centimetres Per Second' ('5CPS' from here on in) all over. The first Makoto Shinkai piece to receive real critical acclaim in the West, 5CPS has been one of the anime hits of this year (finally dropping on DVD) alongside 'Summer Wars', and I definitely felt the magic in this one.
I'd been hearing a fair bit about 5CPS even before it was released over here, mainly to the tune of "It's a brilliant film, but really sad", so I picked it up at full price (I know!) from HMV and only got round to watching it for the first time last night. My verdict is very similar, only I believe that "brilliant" is an understatement. Spoilers, of sorts, ahead.
The film, for the most part, follows the life of Takaki as he progresses from boyhood into intimidating world of adult responsibilities - all whilst trapped in the embrace of a hopeless love. In fact, hopelessness is a consistent theme throughout 5CPS. Makoto-san has said in interviews that the motivation behind 5CPS is trying to explore the effect of distance on relationships between characters. The film itself is split into three relatively short stories that follow on from one another, though with time passing in between each one. The first chapter introduces us to the characters of Takaki and Akari, who are brought close together by the fact that they're families are constantly moving. Although it goes unsaid between them they fall in love at a young age, but even in the first story we see the futility of their efforts and the inevitability of their separation. The main focus of this first part is Takaki going to meet Akari after they have been split for the first time. This results in an unexpectedly powerful sequence, in which Takaki finds himself brought up short at every hurdle as he attempts to make his way to Akari's station in appalling weather conditions, and has to deal with unavoidable guilt as the trains get him there four hours late. When they eventually share a kiss, Takaki notes how in that moment he became aware that they could never be together.
The second story revolves around a girl named Kanae who has fallen in love with Takaki, after he has transferred away from Tokyo into an island school vastly apart from where Akari lives. Not-particularly-long-story-short, Kanae gets the impression that whilst Takaki is incredibly kind to her, he doesn't see her in the same way as his attention is focused on "something far beyond [her]". When the film enters its final chapter we rejoin Takaki himself, but as an adult. We see how he is still hung-up on the perfect love of his youth and, despite his best efforts, is slowly breaking down. In contrast we also see Akari who appears to have moved on, and this leads to an incredibly emotional, hard-hitting montage showing how Takaki goes about his lonely life and Akari meeting with her fiance. What makes this sequence even more potent are the lyrics to Yamazaki Masayoshi's "One More Time, One More Chance" which plays over the top as the theme song for the movie. The lyrics speak of looking for the one you lost in every scene, hoping to see signs of them, but knowing that it's never going to be. The sequence comes to a head when Takaki and Akari pass each other on the train tracks, but when Takaki looks back Akari has already moved on. At this point I was expecting to cry, but the tears just wouldn't come.
Moving on from the story, this film may well have the best art that I've ever seen, and the animation is top-notch as well. The backgrounds are beautiful, the detailing is perfect and all of it comes together to create an exquisite whole. Watching this film is an experience in itself, even aside from the storylines, as it draws you in to become engrossed in its settings; connects you to the world and the experiences of the characters. The special features on the DVD include an interview with Makoto Shinkai about various aspects of production. One of the main things that struck me from this was the amount of work and effort that went into researching the settings and creating the places that really exist in Japan. He apparently spent weeks on end on the island that is the setting for the second chapter of the film, getting acquainted with the scenery but also with the routines of the people who live there - Makoto-san says that even the story itself was shaped by the quirks that he saw while staying there, such as the lack of real public transport resulting in many students commuting to school on Honda mopeds, which is indeed a prominent feature in the movie. All the efforts that Makoto-san and his team put-in show clearly in the finished product, as you feel like you can identify with the everyday lives of the characters involved and are carried away to the humble, yet stunning, locations.
Perhaps the thing that struck me most though, of all the things that make 5CPS great, is how Makoto Shinkai has managed to create such a moving and utterly powerful film with next-to-no identifiable events. Movies rarely cover the happenings of everyday life or the simple theme of a long-distance relationship because it is almost impossible to make an engrossing or moving picture without a series of big dramatic events or happenstances out of the ordinary, but 5CPS manages to do just that. Whilst there are of course definitive moments in the film, and turning points in the characters' lives, there is nothing removed from what one might term an 'everyday life', and in fact the story is just playing out the lives of the characters with no trimmings or showpieces. Some may have been disappointed by the short length of the film, a mere sixty minutes long, but I think it's just the right length to capture what needs to be shown. Makoto-san said in the interview that they had initially planned out as many as ten of these stories, as opposed to three, but which didn't necessarily relate to one another. I think he made the right move by deciding just to use the ones that follow one continuous thread, as this allowed the audience to become really engaged with the characters and settings in a way that wouldn't have been possible if the movie were just to be a series of chapters connected only thematically.
Lastly I feel I have to talk about the music because, as I've mentioned before, that's something I'm into and this soundtrack really hit home with me. I already touched on the inclusion of Yamazaki-san's "One More Time, One More Chance" as the theme song which works perfectly with the story, and the OST does the same. Mainly piano-based, these pieces explore some of the melodies and progressions of the theme song itself, as well as creating their own independent moods to amplify the emotion being brought out by a particular scene in the way all the best soundtracks do (though one has to bear in mind that this emotion is rarely positive). Of course it's best enjoyed over the film itself, but I've uploaded the soundtrack, including the theme song, for your listening pleasure here. Personally I've put it into a playlist alongside the OST from 'The Girl Who Leapt Through Time' as I find they go quite well together in a similar style.
All that remains is the wrap-up then. I guess all I can say is "Go watch this film." It's not something to just throw on late at night if you're tired though, and nor is it going to raise your spirits if you're looking for that kind of summer film, but it doesn't require that much time for you to give it your full attention. You might want to have some tissues to hand, but as I say you might be too thoroughly moved to need them.
EDIT: I thought I'd share the ending video with y'all. It really is beautiful.