5 Centimeters Per Second

Tonight, I went to a theatrical screening of Makoto Shinkai’s magnificent “5 Centimeters Per Second” at Viz Cinema in San Francisco. It had been a couple of years since I watched it, and I was curious to see if my reaction would have changed. Though I’ve watched it multiple times on DVD, I couldn’t possibly pass up the chance to see it on a big (well, medium) screen.

I could wax poetic for hours about how much I love this film, but it occurs to me that it could easily be my answer to a couple of questions you might ask me:

“Why do you want to move to Japan so much?”

“What do you think true love is?”

And any film that can serve as the answer to those questions is pretty special in my book.

In summation, this is a series of three short films about two young people, Takaki and Akari – “A chain of short stories about their distance”. Though all are beautiful and powerful, the first is a masterpiece. In fact, I would argue that it’s the most perfect 26 minutes of narrative animation ever created. Shinkai’s work as a visual artist is well-known, but what sets this short apart is the incredibly powerful emotion attached to the story. Given a real budget for the first time it isn’t surprising that Shinkai created the most visually gorgeous anime ever – the entire film meets that definition. But in the first short it seems, for the first time, that Shinkai has written a story honest and powerful enough to be the equal of his visual mastery.

I’ve described Shinkai’s art style as “more real than real”, and I still believe that. While his backgrounds and characters are realistic, they aren’t photo-realistic – unbound by reality, Shinkai captures the innate beauty in people and places that we all see in our mind’s eye, but can’t quite capture. It’s like a mist that you can’t reach out and hold in your fingers, but he can – his work is the true magic of what animation can be. The beauty of this film and the events represented visually surpasses any other film I’ve seen, animated or live-action.

I might also cite this anime as the answer to another question – “What film is a perfect harmony of music, story and image?” Both the gorgeous piano backgrounds by Tenmon and the song “One More Time, One More Chance” by Masayoshi Yamazaki are perfect for the material. The power of Yamazaki’s lyrics carries the poignant final scenes to a powerful emotional crescendo – understated, vague, yet incredibly moving.

As for those first two questions, well – you’ll just have to watch the film to understand. I’ll just say this – 5 Centimeter Per Second captures the beauty of everyday Japan and the romantic majesty of pure, innocent love better than any film I’ve ever seen. If you’re not so lucky as to be able to see it in a theater, at the very least rent the Blue-ray – and watch it subtitled, with the wonderful dialogue spoken in the original Japanese by an extremely talented cast.



  1. h

    Wonderful piece. "More real than real" is exactly how I think of the film. I see it as a string of haiku, revealing at every instant the inner reality of the world. You remind me to watch it yet again.

  2. Well-put – this film is indeed more poetry than prose.

  3. l

    I just have one thought. Does this count as NTR? He was sorta waiting for such long time where as the girl seemly moving on with life so easily. Pain me to see them not be together. But i guess this is more real than real.

  4. Yeah, I don't see this as NTR. More like "life isn't fair".

  5. l

    Life is so damn unfair Hopefully in the new manga they doing, they could at least make them meet each other. A new manga about 5 centimeter per second.

    To think I actually watch this show because I wanted to understand the last episode of denpa onna to seishun otoko. I was watching episode 11 when I notice the preview of next title similar with this anime. Thinking if I never watch this show, I might not get the inside joke of the denpa last episode. I decide to watch this. Using such ridiculous reason, I have now watch of what I could say the most down to earth anime I have ever watch. It painful because it just resonate with me.

    P.S. To think I didn't need to watch it in the first place (Denpa don't even have anything remotely to do with this) . But I'm glad that I do in the end.

  6. Wow – well, that's a new reason to recommend Denpa Onna! LOL

    This anime is one everyone should experience, anime fan or not. Glad you found it. It hurts, but it hurts so good…

  7. v

    My favorite all the time, big fan of Shinkai Makoto, I watch 5 Centimeters Per Second at least once a week. Definitely the near perfect animation I ever seen in my life. It create perfect harmony between each frame with the music. Besides, it truly reflects something that happened in my life(not about love relationship) and left me totally speechless for the whole day and took me one week to get back to normal life. No words able to describe the beauty of 5 Centimeters Per Second.

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