Japanese Title: Byousoku 5 Centimeter
Similar: Voices of a Distant Star (same director)
The Place Promised in Our Early Days (same director)
The Garden of Words (same director)
Genre: Melancholic Romance
Watched in: Japanese
Length: 1 hr. movie
- Stunning art and detail beyond what one expects in anime.
- Good atmosphere built from snow and rain particle effects combined with excellent environmental noises.
- Too limited in scope.
- Second part feels weak compared to the rest.
5 Centimetres per second is a rather unique anime in the sense that it has so few elements to its story, instead choosing to focus on one issue at a time. This allows for a deeper look into a single question or emotion, without distraction from other things.
This single movie is split in three, following different stages of the protagonist’s life. Now, before we dive into the story and characters, I must mention the visuals, as they strike you from the outset. All visual aspects are incredible; from the gorgeous environments to the watercolour art style, they will impress. The artists have taken great care to include plenty of detail in their environments, and made sure every single frame is of the utmost quality, the skies in particular – you see many sunsets and moments of twilight.
Animation is well done, especially with how many assets are animated at once on screen, avoiding that common anime issue where most of the world seems frozen outside of the focal asset. Lighting and shading is another standout area where no shortcuts were taken, no surface neglected. Even more impressive, I find, are the reflections; again, just as much work was put into this aspect as any other.
Now, the story. We follow male protagonist, Takaki and his female friend, Akari as they try to reunite after a few years separation. When they last met, they were graduating from primary school into middle school, only Akari was moving elsewhere with her family. They kept in touch through mail and phone, and at last as they near high school, they have a chance to see each other again. Alas, problems arise when Takaki’s train experiences delay after delay from the blizzard outside.
This first episode is told through a mixture of the present – the train journey – and flashbacks detailing their primary school years. It has a slow start, and never really speeds up to be honest, but it does establish their relationship and the current situation well. You feel the desolation and sorrow faced by Takaki, enhanced by the environment and weather to great effect. I don’t know if it was because I was watching this in a Himalayan winter or if the sense of cold was done especially well, but I felt cold while watching this.
As I said earlier, this story likes to focus on one thing at a time. In this first part, it speaks of an aspect often forgotten in young romance stories, in that their lives aren’t in their control yet, no matter how much they wish otherwise.
For the second episode, we re-join Takaki as he nears high-school graduation, this time told through the eyes of a new female character, Kanae, has been in love with him for years and is desperate to tell him before they leave school. Weather and the environments to symbolise the narrator’s emotions are put to great use; the near constant twilight adds to the imminent – and inevitable – change in her life. It is another look at how little control you have in life, even when you have aged considerably. Kanae struggles to adjust with the forthcoming changes.
Unfortunately, I found this second part to be the weakest of the three, as it doesn’t tie very well into the other two. However, it does contain the most beautiful artistic qualities.
We leap a decade into the future for episode three, Takaki now in the workforce with a dreary, repetitive job and an everyday routine. And again, visuals used to superb effect here. I don’t want to give anything away, but this third part asks the most powerful question of the film: given the opportunity, would you pursue a childhood dream as an adult even though all circumstances have changed? Nothing I have said so far would be constituted as spoilers as it isn’t the set-up of each episode, but rather the characters’ responses that matter.
Overall, 5 centimetres per second is a good movie, with each area seemingly executed exactly as the director wanted; however, this does mean you see a limited scope of this story and world. It feels like the sort of film that a small team would make and enter it in a film festival with the sole purpose of leaving the audience with a question they should ask themselves – oh, and show off amazing visuals in the process.
Art – Very High
Absolutely phenomenal. Worth seeing for the visuals alone.
Sound – High
Audio is the most ordinary of the film’s qualities. With so few characters and a consistent tone throughout, there is no diversity in the voice work. That isn’t to say the acting is bad, simply ordinary. 5 centimetres per second boasts little music, preferring to have ambient sounds and atmosphere take over, which it does superbly; however, due to the constant quiet, it lessens the atmospheric impact in the crucial moments. This seems intentional, in line with the single-minded focus of the narrative.
Story – High
A focused story on romance and coming-of-age that asks deep questions, at the cost of breadth.
Overall Quality – High
Recommendation: A film worthy of an hour of your time unless you require joy in anime. Watch 5 centimetres per second in a winter snowstorm, if able.
Awards: (hover mouse over each award to see descriptions; click award for more recipients)