The Nihon Review - Anime Reviews & Editorials

5 Centimeters Per Second

Title: 5 Centimeters Per Second aka Byousoku 5 Centimeter – a chain of short stories about their distance
Genre: Drama/Romance
Company: CoMix Wave Inc.
Format: Movie; 62 minutes.
Dates: 3 Mar 2007

Synopsis: Tohno Takaki and Shinohara Akari have been close since elementary school, but after Akari moves away with her family, they struggle to keep in touch and find the time to see each other.

The Highlights
Art: Among the greatest artistic presentations in anime.
Romance: Incredibly tender and heart-warming in the first chapter; not so much after that.
Emotional impact: Moving in the first chapter.
Characters: Well analyzed, but ill resolved.
Ending: Lacks a proper resolution.

Shinkai Makoto is a real visionary. His ability to construct such rich and detailed artistic presentations is phenomenal. Anime has several directors that are talented and evidently passionate about constructing a stimulating visual effort pulsating with detail and motion and irregular, yet controlled camera movements that keep the audience on their toes, including Ishihara Tatsuya, Shinbo Akiyuki, Satoshi Kon and, of course, Miyazaki Hayao, but I’d willingly make the argument that none has the ability to manipulate complex and dynamic interactions of light and shadow, reflection, colour and bloom as perfectly as Shinkai does. It’s not that Shinkai creates perfectly realistic visual environments; he’s more than willing to take artistic liberties with the laws of physics if it means enhancing the atmosphere or subtly pushing a visual motif. Specular reflections may have the intensity of laser light, and the reflection from a rear view mirror will focus exactly onto the camera from several hundred meters away. Strands of grass dance independently in the wind and the distant sea shimmers like a starry night. Shinkai‘s works have backgrounds that are alive.

It’s easy enough to wax on and on about how good the art and animation in 5 Centimeters Per Second is, and while it is an achievement worthy of a massive amount of acclaim, what ultimately defines a film is its story. And while I was left in awe at the artistic component of 5 Centimeters Per Second, the story-telling isn’t quite on the same level as the visuals. Shinkai again deals with what appear to be his pet themes of distance between love and coping with separation, but does so this time without introducing a prominent sci-fi element as was the case with Voices of a Distant Star and The Place Promised in Our Early Days. 5 Centimeters Per Second is divided into three chapters, each analyzing the relationship between the two leads at different points of their lives. The problem is that the latter two chapters simply aren’t as absorbing and touching as the first, which shows a heart-warming and tender display of love almost guaranteed to move almost anyone inclined towards anime romances. The second chapter lacks the emotional impact of the first, even though it does provide some intriguing character analyses, but the third chapter is uncharacteristically cynical and pessimistic from Shinkai.

While the change in tone is jarring, this I’m not opposed to in itself, since it avoids the cliches of the “Pure Love” genre. What I didn’t approve of was the fact that the ending offered no real resolution. There’s simply no solid denouement; the film shows a montage (which is, in my opinion, one of the laziest story-telling techniques in cinema) and then cuts to the credits.

5 Centimeters Per Second is worth watching for the art alone. But, to add a bit of cake to the icing, the first chapter is also outstanding, presenting a touching and innocent romance filled with powerful gestures and heart-warming moments. Unfortunately, the highlight of the film is over after twenty-five minutes, and the story slowly becomes less and less emotionally engaging, ultimately leading to a disappointing non-ending. This is still better than most other anime you’ll see this year, but don’t let the Shinkai-hype overwhelm you; this isn’t his best work and he’s not as good at crafting a story as Miyazaki… just yet.

The Rating: 8

Reviewed by: Sorrow-kun

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