5 Centimeters per Second: A chain of short stories about their distance.
(Byosoku 5 Centimeter)
Makoto Shinkai, director
Shinkai's follow-up to 2004's The Place Promised in Our Early Days (Kumo no Muko, Yakusoku no Basho) is another examination of the themes of love and distance explored in his 2002 piece Voices of a Distant Star (Hoshi no Koe) (I review the manga here) however in this work the distance covered is not interstellar but rather the distance of time which, in some ways, is a greater gulf to cross.
The piece is broken down in to three separate stories, all centered around Takaki Tono. The first story, Cherry Blossom Story, is set in the 1990s. After the end of elementary school Takaki's friend Akari moves out of Tokyo and while the two keep in touch via letters, Takaki knows they are slowly growing apart. When Takaki's parents tell him they are moving to Kagoshima, on the southern island of Kyushu, he decides to go and visit Akari before the opportunity slips away. A train ride that should have only taken a couple of hours is turned in to a journey of epic proportions by a snow storm. Takaki finally arrives hours late and the two spend the night together (not in that way, it is not that sort of anime). They share a kiss and then Takaki has to head back to Tokyo, longing for Akari and yet knowing that they will continue to be pulled apart by time and distance.
The second story, Cosmonaut, is set on the island of Tanegashima, the site of the Tanegashima Space Center. Here we see Takaki in high school with a not very secret admirer, Kanae Sumita. Told from Kanae's point of view, this chapter is about her love for Takaki and her confusion about what she wants to do with her life. Kanae struggles with her desire to tell Takaki how she truly feels about him and then, on the day she decides to tell him, she realizes that Takaki has always been looking at something in the distance and never really saw her. She decides she will love Takaki but she cannot tell him and that night cries herself to sleep.
The final chapter, 5 Centimeters per Second, is set in 2008. Takaki is a computer programmer in Tokyo however he still longs for Akari. Akari is preparing for her upcomming wedding. One day Takaki sees a familiar face at a train crossing. He turns to see if it is Akari but a train comes and blocks his view.
I found the entire piece to be very moving and powerful, and much like Voices of a Distant Star Shinkai had me crying as the world pulls his star-crossed lovers apart. There is something universal in the unrequited or impossible love and despite the cultural differences I am able to identify with his characters. The emotional impact of the stories is heightened by the score which is usually a solo piano playing a very simple tune.
While the genius of Shinkai's work is his characters and their ability to get the viewer emotionally invested in them very quickly, his work is also incredibly beautiful. The spaces in which the characters move are sometimes more important that the characters themselves and contribute to the story in a way that few anime directors embrace.
I cannot find the right combination of words to express how strongly I feel about this piece except to tell you that it is one of my top five anime's of all time, a list inhabited by only one other director, Miyazaki. Check it out as the U.S. DVD release is tomorrow, March 4th.
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