5 Centimeters Per Second: Of Distance and Time

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“Hey. They say it’s five centimeters per second…the speed of falling cherry blossom petals is five centimeters per second…” – Akari

I was greeted by this very phrase from the first few minutes of the movie. I haven’t seen any real cherry blossoms but it made me wonder if they really do fall at the speed of five centimeters per second. I find it a lovely backdrop and a perfect catalyst to start the story of love of Tohno Takaki and Shinohara Akari, who started as little kids who grew closer during elementary school.

It was recommended to me by a work colleague but I had only gotten around to watch it recently. It was like a new venture for me to take on a Japanese animated film that is non-Ghibli and non-Hayao Miyazaki made; so I didn’t really know what to expect. In one of these past few days, I just had this sudden urge to see it and other Japanese films that were recommended to me.

The movie is divided into three acts: The Chosen Cherry Blossoms, Cosmonaut and 5 Centimeters Per Second. The style is a new take in my opinion in tackling an animated romantic drama. I specifically like how the different stages of Takaki and Akari’s life are depicted in three sections, but definitely with more focus on Takaki’s perspective. The style makes it highly introspective and allows a deep exploration to the characters, especially Takaki. But I must agree at some point that the story runs a little slow. But since I’m the kind of person who likes introspection, so I take the introspective part a positive one.

Act 1: The Chosen Cherry Blossoms

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In act one, this is where I see them as little kids who seem to be a bit out of the ordinary. Sharing similar interests and almost the same personality, they instantly became the subject of tease among their classmates for always being together. Back to the first scene, Takaki and Akari are watching the cherry blossoms fall when she suddenly runs to the  other side of a train crossing. After the train has passed, Akari tells him that she hopes they could watch the cherry blossoms once again. And that is the beginning of real life for them.

The animation from this very scene alone is simply indescribably beautiful for me.

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Akari had to transfer school and that’s when Takaki is left behind. They were kids, they didn’t make their own choices back then and it struck Takaki as he couldn’t do anything for her, knowing that she didn’t want it to happen either. When it was time for Takaki to transfer, they decided to finally see each other. Now 13, it was the first time for Takaki to be travelling so far to a place he’d never been to just to see Akari.

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When they had set the date, March 4; it was supposed to be Spring and Akari was looking forward to seeing Takaki and hoping that the cherry blossoms would fall on that day. However, just as life had started for them when they were kids, it’s nature this time that’s somehow hindering them. It rained then it snowed hard, and when that happens, one should know what to expect. But despite the worry that she might have gone home, there was no going back for Takaki.

It felt so nerve-wracking to see Takaki as he waits for every extended train stop due to the weather, as if every passing hour is killing him. His mind filled with thoughts of losing the chance to ever see Akari again.

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It was like against all odds. I was half expecting that she wouldn’t be there for what seemed like forever waiting for Takaki to appear. This is by far, one of the best moments and one of my favorite scenes. It made me happy that they were able to share this moment with each other, after that separation and their deep longing to see each other again.

“In that moment, I felt like I knew where eternity, our hearts and our souls all lay. I felt as though we had shared all the experiences of my 13 years. And then in the next moment, I was suddenly filled with an insufferable sadness. Akari’s warmth and her soul… How could I take them in, and where could I bring them? I felt that sad because I didn’t have those answers. I clearly knew from that point on, we wouldn’t be together forever. The overwhelming weight of our lives to come and the uncertainty of time hung over us.” – Takaki 

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From the very start, everything was just so scenically beautiful for me. The cherry blossoms, the bullet train, and the snow. But then again, despite how everything seems to be beautiful; life knocks you over back to reality.

Act 2 – Cosmonaut

The dream

The dream

“It must really be a lonelier journey that anyone could imagine. To just press forward through the true pitch darkness. Barely encountering even a single hydrogen atom. Wholeheartedly believing you’ll come closer to discovering the secrets of the universe within the unfathomable abyss of space. I wonder how far we should go. How far can we go?” – Takaki 

The cosmonaut

The cosmonaut

In act two, there was no presence of Akari at all in Takaki’s life, not even those exchange of letters. Instead, Sumida Kanae, a surfer girl who’s in the same class as Takaki is often seen with him after school. Despite how noticeable that Kanae has feelings for Takaki, she even waits for him so they can go home together; Takaki remains oblivious about her feelings.

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There were scenes in the film that Takaki was seen writing messages. I instantly assumed that since it’s the era of the mobile phones, communication between them has become easier. But there’s always a catch to it, he never actually sends them to anyone. He writes on his mobile a brief story about a dream he had with a girl in another planet walking in a field, but he says he can’t make out her face. Of course, that’s how dreams are but as a viewer, I clearly know that it was a dream with Akari. And the fact the even in his subconscious, Akari’s presence is largely everywhere; it tells me that he’s been stuck there. He may have been doing things in life normally but inside him ever since that day, everything had no real weight for him anymore. He stopped having strong emotions, no special memories, no happiness neither sorrow, not even scars.

This stage of Takaki’s life reminds me of Tsukuru from Haruki Murakami’s Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage. Like him, Tsukuru had been distraught by a rejection he suffered from four of his best friends, to the point that he deliberately started wandering from life. And while Takaki and Tsukuru’s experiences are not in the exact manner, they share one thing: the shadows of the past. For both Takaki and Tsukuru, it’s those mixed memories of the past that’s been bogging them down, affecting their relationships with other people without them even having to say it.

Act 3 – 5 Centimeters Per Second

“Then one day I realized that my heart was withering, and in it there was nothing but pain.” – Takaki

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On a day when cherry blossoms start to fall, Takaki was walking at a train crossing and passes by a girl. He looks back to see if it was Akari just when the train passes by, stopping them to confirm each other’s identity.

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In this final act, it shows how different the lives Takaki and Akari pursued. At first glance, it could be said that Akari had very well moved on and seemed to be content with her life. It is heartbreaking to see how there will always be that one person who had moved on, who seemed to have found that line where life and love get along well. Although still having those memories, she carries it with her as only things that remind her of a blissful past that will no longer affect her present.

Between Takaki and Akari, for me it was more difficult for Takaki. Having to bear and feeling helpless with the growing distance between them that’s setting them apart, and eventually having to go on with his path with those feelings from when they were kids still clinging to him like a shadow.

Despite having promised to write to each other, at some point one of them got tired and stopped writing letters or rather both of them had been weakened in the process; by then the ever growing distance and life’s unpredictability had caught up to break them.

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But then again, had they gathered up their courage to say what they wanted before saying goodbye here; things could have been different. And the letters that were meant to be read with words they wanted to tell each other were forever left in the past.

FotorCreatedThe film is something for people looking for introspective realism in animated films, without the fluff and common romantic drama themes. I highly recognize the creative use of metaphors, with the train that connects people but also sets them apart, the cosmonaut that Takaki indirectly likens to people’s lives and at how life can be so indefinite and unpredictable, and the cherry blossoms that represent the impermanence of people’s relationships; at how humans often come together and slowly drift apart and the sluggishness of life.

But then again, I would have wanted them to have experienced all those memories as adults rather than as kids.

 

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