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Takaki Tōno and Akari Shinohara thought they would be together forever. Ever since childhood, the two had seemed inseparable. But growing up is difficult for anyone, and for Takaki, it means letting go of something you hold dear to your heart, no matter what itís feeling. Three stories combine to demonstrate loveís power over someone; the wrenching feeling of drifting apart, the euphoria of getting it back, and the struggling to move on when it leaves again.
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In terms of overseas exposure to Japanese animation, Western culture has only seen a small part of what Far East has to offer. Hayao Miyazaki is a pioneer in his field, and succeeded in transferring his influence into Western society. Comparable to Pixarís greatest films, Miyazakiís works have not only garnered critical praise; they have been hailed as the pinnacles of family and animated entertainment.
But, surprisingly so, this is not a film directed by Hayao Miyazaki. It is rather directed by his protťgť; an-up-and-coming animation visionary. 5 Centimeters is by far his most popular film, yet itís only a glimpse into the talent this man possesses. This man is Makoto Shinkai, and he created one of the best movies, animated or otherwise, that I have ever had the privilege of viewing.
5 Centimeters is described by Shinkai himself as a Ďchain of short stories about their distanceí. His title refers to the speed at which cherry blossoms fall to the ground, and presents this idea through his main character, a boy named Takaki Tōno. The film is structured in three separate stories, following the stages of Takakiís maturation into adulthood. Each story is told in their own form, with their own perspective, and includes their own beginning, middle and end. Each segment is a film in and of itself.
With each story however, the theme remains the same. How Shinkai approaches this film determines the impact it has on the audience. This is the first indication of the talent this director possesses. He strikes the right chords and the right times, cues the elements of the film at the right moments, and makes the audience feel how he wants them to feel. He does this with profound effect, and does not hold back in creating an atmosphere which he shapes into an audienceís reaction. This theme that Shinkai tackles, and undoubtedly masters by the end of the film, is the nature of love.
The key in creating a romance is to be relatable. Love is the ultimate connector. It is a common concept, yet there is no concrete definition. The enticement that it creates in people is what brings them back again for another A-List rom-com or formulaic hook-up. People want to experience love, and one method of seeking it is through cinema. Shinkai sidesteps this common technique however; he twists the message of the romance into something much more relatable than loveís mere nature. He shows love, in all its forms, and we are captivated by every single moment.
Other romances would play with the theme, maybe add a few emotional moments of enlightenment or heartfelt conversations between two soulmates, but all in all other romances never go past the line of pseudo-comedic approach. 5 Centimters is a romance that provides no humour and no laughs. They are no light-hearted moments in this film. Each story consists of characters having profound feelings for one another, or someone else, or something that is long gone. Shinkai does this by taking advantage of animationís capabilities. Usually, as with Miyazakiís films, animation is used to go a step further than sci-fi, and truly create an otherworldy experience, outside live-action limits. Shinkai sidesteps this once again. Instead of making another world, he recreates ours. Ever setting is familiar, even if you are foreign to Japanese urban life. The subway stations, empty streets, and neighbourhood pathways filled with cherry trees at every house; even the McDonaldís down the street or the empty subway cars at night. Every single picture is as real as we see it. Our minds act strangely when seeing something like that. I, for example, saw a more realistic world than any live-action rom-com will ever provide. Itís the only film I know that was able to do this, and for that I give Shinkai my praise.
Its animation is one thing, but 5 Centimeters is not a fast film. It takes its time. It shows you all the beautifully rendered settings and keeps them on the screen for an eternity. Like a moving watercolour painting. Each shaded cloud, every falling snowflake and all the cherry blossoms are meticulously detailed. But then we start listening to these characters talk. And it almost seems like an automated voice is describing an image in front of me. Yet, description is not of the image, itís of the characters, and what theyíre feeling, their experiences and their thoughts about everything that crosses their mind. Then I realized, I think about these things too. Is it a bit sentimental? Yes. But it speaks to you. Why is that? Shinkai pieces together these stories into his way of storytelling. Three stories, three stages of life, one character. One character, but three different experiences of love. His first experience is with a childhood friend and their first kiss. His second is coping with the loss of that friend, and hoping one day that he would feel the same again. The third is the fleeting sense of a love he once had, and the struggle to overcome that love and ultimately move on. Along with that, one secondary character falls into the category of unrequited love for Takaki, and the acceptance that it sometimes works in strange ways. This is love in all its forms. We have experienced at least one of them in our life. If you havenít, Iím concerned.
But thatís another matter. The ironic thing is, the one form of love thatís not addressed is true love. This is the filmís strongest point. Itís what separates it from all the rest. Weíre never satisfied, even when the film is complete. Shinkai dangles this prospect in front of us as we watch Takaki through all his emotional troubles. He uses love as a rope to the audience, to connect with them and pull them into the story. It becomes a shared experience at this point, and Shinkai triumphs in making the audience a part of the story.
Itís such a profound feeling when you see a film that can do so much to you after you watch it. This film really does sidestep all norms for the usual anime flick, and instead changes things up with creating beautifully drawn landscapes of everyday life, themes which identify with just about anyone, and a development of plot that takes it slow and steady so the feelings can set in. Shinkai sets himself apart from other animes and other romances with this film. By the end of it, youíll be in awe.
5 Centimeters per second