5 Centimeters per Second is the latest piece from Makoto Shinkai, and if you've seen his previous titles, you'll know he has a theme that he likes to stick to - or run into the ground, if you're being less charitable. That theme is revisited / flogged some more here, and to be honest I put on the disc expecting to be underwhelmed by more of the same. Uh, no. Most definitely not...
What They Say
Taking its title from the speed at which cherry blossoms fall, 5 Centimetres Per Second comprises three interconnected short stories, each centred on the hopes and dreams of a boy named Takaki Tono, beginning in the 1990s and end in the present day.
The story begins when a new girl, Akari Shinohara, transfers to Takaki's elementary school, the two very quickly grow close to each other due to their similar interests and personalities and are soon inseparable. That is until Akari's parents have to move because of their jobs and, inevitably, have to take their daughter with them. The two friends remain in touch by letter but, despite their mutual affection, they begin to drift apart. When Takaki is informed that he and his family will also be moving even further away, he decides to take a trip to visit Akari and reveal his true feelings to her.
Through breathtaking animation and simple, heartfelt storytelling, Makoto Shinkai paints a vivid tableau of young love, desire, loss and hope with an unforgettably beautiful work that will thrill and delight fans of Satoshi Kon (Paprika; Millennium Actress), Mamoru Hosada (Summer Wars; The Girl Who Leapt Through Time) and, of course, Hayao Miyazaki.
Audio is provided in English and Japanese 2.0 versions - I listened to the Japanese track for this review. The movie is almost pure dialogue, with occasional spots of background music. With most of the speech being in the form of narration, there's little opportunity for directionality - the best you get is placement of sound effects - but it is very well put together and fits the mood of the movie perfectly. There were no obvious encoding problems.
Audio is presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic format and, as you would expect from a Makoto Shinkai movie, is simply beautiful - although by all accounts the Blu-ray version is even moreso. We won't be getting that in the UK, sadly. Colours are vibrant, there's plenty of detail to be seen in the background images, and the animation quality throughout is top-notch. A very, very nice looking release.
No packaging was provided with our review copy.
Menus are pleasingly basic - a still from the movie, of Takaki and Akari walking down a street, set against the show's closing song. Options are provided for Play, Scenes, Setup and Extras. There are no transitions between the screens, making it all quick and easy to use.
There's a good selection of extras on this release, starting with the original Japanese trailer (with English subtitles), and a short (5mins) montage of stills documenting the making of the movie. There's also a 35min video interview with director Makoto Shinkai, and a set of 4 video interviews featuring the Japanese voice cast. No shortage of things of interest, then.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review will contain spoilers)
5cm per second: the speed that cherry blossoms fall at on their way from branch to ground. That's what Akari Shinohara once claimed to her friend Takaki Tono, anyway. The pair became very close after Akari transferred into Takaki's school, but on graduation her family moved away again, forcing them to keep in touch by mail - and as anyone who's every had a long-distance relationship will know, it's very easy to drift apart when distance comes between you. On learning that his own family will soon be moving from Tokyo to Kageshima, though, Takaki makes a determined effort to see Akari one more time, before the distance between them becomes even greater...
The theme of Shinkai's previous titles, Voices of a Distant Star and The Place Promised in our Early Days, was separation: in the first, trying to maintain a relationship over relativistic distances, and in the latter of trying to remake a relationship after a separation that had seemed permanent. This outing plays more into the second camp - it's primarily about the effect that being separated from Akari has on the course of Takaki's life, and it has to be said that it isn't pretty - but in amongst the trainwreck that Takaki's life threatens to become is dropped the bit where 5cm really shines: the second segment, and Kanae.
But one thing at a time. Takaki is the "star" of the show, for want of a better word, and to say that he's obsessed would be an understatement. I'm not sure that it's even Akari that he's obsessed with, as much as the memories of her that are attached with thoughts of better days, but from the day she leaves Tokyo and leaves him behind his life begins a downward run that, depending on how you interpret the ending, shows no sign of ending. From visiting her and writing letters (the early arc of the movie takes place at a time before cellphones and the internet, and the story probably couldn't have happened if they'd been on the scene), he goes to writing emails that never get sent, and dreaming about meetings that never have and never will happen. It's obsession on a massive, frightening, and hugely destructive scale, and if that were all that the movie were about I'd have a hard time recommending it.
But dropped into the middle comes the story of Kanae, a girl who loves Takaki but who eventually comes to realise that she's on a hiding to nowhere, that Takaki's heart and mind are forever elsewhere. In a way it's a heartbreaking story all of it's own - it doesn't need the bookends of the other two arcs to make it work - but in the way that Kanae deals with her realisation, the way that she picks herself up, dusts herself down and (quite literally) gets back on the board she serves as an example that Takaki could have learnt from - if only his mind weren't so irretrievably elsewhere. This was the part of the movie that was the most emotionally engaging for me, as you can't help but feel for Kanae and her unrequited love, which is clearly painful for her - but you also know that she's going to be okay.
I suspect that how you respond to the story will also be coloured by your own personal experience. Some of the situations that are portrayed here, I can relate to because I've been there - shifting friendships caused by frequently moving home, wanting someone you know you can't have, turning down what was possible for a dream that wasn't - these are all things I've experienced first-hand, and other people will have other aspects of 5cm that they're able to check off and say "Yup, I've been there...". Having those experiences helps you understand the movie itself, as while it goes to great lengths to say as much as it can through the narrations that Takaki, Akari and Kanae provide, there's also a lot that left unsaid for you to divine for yourself, and that's where your mileage may vary a little.
It's very easy to dismiss this as just another rehash of the same old theme, another shameless attempt to pull on the heartstrings to get an emotional response (and yes, I may have brushed a dust speck or two out of my eyes during Kanae's segment), but that's doing it a dis-service - yes, Shinkai is guilty of rehashing and yes, he really should get a new theme to work with, but he's shown with 5 Centimeters per Second that there was enough left in the theme for one last hurrah, and it has turn out, against my expectations, to be another thoroughly worthwhile piece of work. Extremely well done, and absolutely worth seeing.
Japanese Language 2.0, English Language 2.0, English Subtitles, Interview with Director Makoto Shinkai, Interview with Voice Cast, Making Of Montage, Original Trailer
Toshiba 37X3030DB 37" widescreen HDTV; Sony PS3 Blu-ray player (via HDMI, upscaled to 1080p); Acoustic Solutions DS-222 5.1 speaker system.