5 Centimeters Per Second is one of the most beautiful movies I have ever seen. An mostly unheard of anime, this film is a joy to watch. Only 62 minutes long, 5 Centimeters Per Second feels more like a walk through a museum than an hour on the couch.
The movie is directed by Makoto Shinkai, a Japanese “director, writer, producer, animator, editor, cinematographer, voice actor, manga artist and former graphic designer” as described by IMDB. Shinkai is often described as “the next Hayao Miyazaki,” though his style is quite distinct and different.
If you go into this film expecting something from Studio Ghibli, you’ll likely leave disappointed. The story is told mainly through voice overs as the camera pans across beautiful depictions of Japanese life. Whereas Miyazaki films often exist in a fantasy realm of magic or in years gone by, Shinkai’s 5 Centimeters Per Second, and more recent film Your Name, exist in modern present day Japan. Depictions of cell phones, boom boxes, and even a Super Famicom create a vibrant, visual feast for your eyes.
“The speed at which the sakura blossom petals fall… Five centimeters per second.”
This also describes the pacing of this film. It’s slow. But the speed fits the action, or in this case, lack thereof. The film’s plot is somewhat unconventional. It’s almost a slice of life film, looking at three different times in the main character’s life.
As the audience, we follow him and two girls who were important to him. We get to know them through their letters and thoughts as they realize they care for each other and as they realize they are not meant to be with each other.
Close friends drifting apart over time, unrequited love, the disconnect between friends who live far away: these topics are relatable. Though relatively sparse on action, the emotional adventure of the characters will sweep you up and away as you get lost in this lovely film.
It is a contemplative film, to be sure. And while some sections tug at your heart-strings or remind you of the melancholy times of your life, it also has a few fun moments which will make you smile.
“If I’d had a tail like a dog then, he would have known how happy I was, because it would have been wagging so hard. I thought to myself It’s a good thing I’m not a dog after all.”
I’ve been to Japan twice and both times I’ve just been struck by how beautiful it is. The landscape, but also the architecture. It’s so exotic, so different, from rural Minnesota, that I find myself simply fascinated by the style of their society.
The detail in every one of these shots, every frame, is simply superb. The detail is simply incredible. Though many of the frames look painted, they contain an element of photorealism which is almost hard to describe. Looking at the inside of the train car, or the turnstile at the station, I couldn’t help but think: “I’ve been there.”
As far as the people went, for much of the film they are not given much detail at all. Eyes hidden by hair, faces drawn with no distinct mouth or nose. As important as they are to the story, they often take a back seat to the environment they transverse.
5 Centimeters Per Second relies heavily on sound effects and very little on music. The sounds of feet crunching through snow and wind rustling in the grass helped bring the scenes to life. The sounds faded in and out between different shots, drawing attention and fading away. There were a few times when the sounds perhaps drew a little too much attention, yet they also seemed natural, even when they… well, weren’t. The sound of shoes in the snow came and went, practically none of it matching the actual footfalls of the characters, but it worked.
Overall, this film comes highly recommended. It’s not a terribly exciting film, but it is a very beautiful film and it makes for a welcome change of pace.