Review for 5 Centimetres Per Second
There's two kinds of anime in this world, the average kind that we get to watch everyday, and that Joe public looks down their collective nose at, and the special anime that makes people go 'Woo!' and throw awards, critical acclaim and plaudits at. There's too much of the former, and not enough of the latter, which is the nature of genius, hardly prolific at the best of times. But it's why people stand up and take notice of names like Satoshi Kon, Mamoru Hosoda, and indeed Hayao Miyazaki. In fact, everyone knows who Hayao Miyazaki is, which is problematical, as everyone new and promising in the industry get compared to him. In the 21st Century, it's Makoto Shinkai that is being proclaimed as the new Hayao Miyazaki. It's a little unfair, as his work to date has hardly been the fairy tale wonderments that Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli often astound with. Shinkai's work does share a visual splendour and beauty with Miyazaki's works, although what Shinkai does with light and shade, mood and atmosphere is much more complex. But Shinkai's subject matter, the testing of human feelings against adversity, is a far more adult and mature approach to storytelling that is unique to his works, although Mamoru Hosoda does something not totally dissimilar in his films. Of course, me being the butch, manly man, I've managed to avoid Shinkai's works to date. Not that it's been all that hard, as of his films, only three have made it to DVD in the West, and even then, only fleetingly.
He came to prominence with Voices of a Distant Star, a short film that he practically made single-handedly on a home PC. This led to the feature film, The Place Promised in Our Early Days. Both of these films were released singly, and then in a collection by ADV, both in the US and in the UK. And now that interest is surging once more in Makoto Shinkai, they are both well and truly deleted. These two films also had a strong science fiction element to them, an element that was removed from his third film, this 5 Centimetres Per Second, released in 2007, again to universal acclaim. Of course it would be ADV that would release it in both the US and the UK, except that this was at that point when ADV was sinking. It was released in the US, for four months in 2008, before the licence expired. Until this year, second hand copies of 5 Centimeters Per Second were selling for silly money.
It looked as if Shinkai's commercial star would fade in the West, but thankfully Crunchyroll came to the rescue, and licensed all three titles for streaming. The ADV dub having died with the ADV release, Comix Wave even commissioned a new English language dub from Bang Zoom Studios, and Crunchyroll debuted it in February 2009 on one of their Shinkai days. That September, Australia's Madman Entertainment were the first distributor in the world to release that dub on DVD, and it didn't seem that it would be too long until we would get it too. Except that Manga's UK release has been delayed again and again over the past 18 months. The reason is Blu-ray. Manga wanted the Blu-ray rights. 5 Centimetres Per Second is a film that begs to be seen in high definition. But we in the West sell our Blu-rays for £20; while in Japan they go for five times as much. The Japanese don't want to lose sales to reverse importation. And that is why we can't have nice things. And it's why we get 5 Centimetres Per Second now with the new Bang Zoom dub in 2011, instead of 2 years ago. At least we get it before America, as Bandai will re-release it there at the end of April.
5 Centimetres Per Second captures moments in young lives, an anthology of three short stories, linked by common characters.
Cherry Blossom Story
Takaki Tono and Akari Shinohara are best friends and childhood sweethearts, outsiders drawn together by shared experience in junior school. And at that young age possibilities seem limitless, the future seems impossibly far away, until real life comes crashing down when Akari has to move to a new town. They remain committed penpals, and promise to meet up next spring, when the cherry blossoms next fall. Only the next year it becomes even worse, as Takaki has to move even further away, to the distant island of Kagoshima. It will probably be their last and only chance to meet again, and it means a long train journey just for Takaki to get there. But then the snow starts to fall.
Takaki Tono is a senior in high school, about to graduate and with a world of opportunities open to him, and his aim is to leave Kagoshima Island and head to Tokyo to study. His classmate Kanae Sumita has a serious crush on him, and keeps trying to work up the courage to confess her feelings to him. She's also trying to figure out what to do next in her life, and learn how to surf. Yet no matter how nice Takaki is to her, there's something about him that is ever distant.
5 Centimetres Per Second
The cherry blossoms are falling in Tokyo, but Takaki's life seems to be in a cul-de-sac. He's just split from his girlfriend Risa, he's quit his job, and he's questioning his whole direction in life. His thoughts turn to that girl he once knew. At the same time, Akari Shinohara is about to get married, when she finds a letter she once wrote to Takaki Tono, but that she never posted. She too begins thinking about the path not taken.
The 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer is thankfully a native PAL conversion, which brings out the sublime animation to stunning effect on DVD. 5 Centimetres Per Second is clear, sharp, and mind-blowingly colourful, and there's no drop in resolution, or any of that pesky ghosting associated with standards conversions. This is an animation that just has to be seen, as no description of mine will do it justice. The attention to detail is breathtaking; the character designs are nice, and more realistic than the average anime. And what Makoto Shinkai does with light, reflections, shadow, and colour is simply astounding. I haven't seen anything like this before; it's a film that redefines what anime is capable of. Yes, it would have been perfect if this film could have been released on Blu-ray, but this DVD edition is no slouch in the visual department either.
You have just the two simple DD 2.0 English and Japanese stereo tracks. The dialogue is clear throughout, the music is gentle and evocative, and the stereo has enough separation to it to give the film a presence and space to breathe. Naturally surround would have been preferable, but the stereo is more than adequate. The subtitles could have used a bit of quality control. There looks like there are translated subtitles and a signs only track to go with the English dub. Indeed a second subtitle stream does come on when the English is selected. Unfortunately it is empty, there are no signs appearing when text captions require translation, and you'll have to look to the translated subtitle track for those. The translated subtitles could have used a little proofreading, as certain grammatical errors do creep in, the biggest of which is "I'll ride you home", instead of "I'll give you a ride home". That might make you spit out your coffee, and this technical issue really should have been picked up earlier, especially as the disc looks to be a direct port of the Australian disc.
As mentioned, this appears to be a direct port of the Madman release. You get the Madman credits after the film ends, while the disc gets static menus and a jacket picture. The disc itself is generously loaded with extra features. Incidentally, the end theme, "One More Time, One More Chance" plays in its entirety over the main menu screen.
The interview with the director Makoto Shinkai lasts 37 minutes. He talks at length about the film, from the meaning of the title, to the process of creating it. He also talks about the casting process and how the film differs from the usual anime voice performances. It's interesting and surprising to learn just how the film was created, despite having the budget, production values and the manpower, it's still very much a homemade film, much like his first title, Voices of a Distant Star.
The Interview with the Voice Cast is a collection of pieces to camera, available in a submenu, with Kenji Mizuhashi (Takaki Tono) interviewed for 10 minutes, Yoshino Kondo (Akari Shinohara) talking for 9 minutes, Satomi Hanamura (Kanae Sumida) 10 minutes, and finally Ayaka Onoue (Adult Akari Shinohara) also talking for 9 minutes. They talk about their characters, the film and the voice recording process, and all four are very interesting featurettes.
The Making of Montage lasts 5 minutes, and is a slideshow of stills taken during the filmmaking process. Half of the time is devoted to location shooting, and you can see just how the real world is given a fantasy sheen in the anime. There is also some images of the animators at work, stills of the ADR process, topped off with photos taken from the film's premiere.
Finally there is the 5 Centimetres Per Second trailer.
If you're looking for a story, a beginning, middle and end in the traditional sense, then you're looking in the wrong place. 5 Centimetres Per Second is more an emotional narrative than conventional storytelling. It's about feelings, it's about capturing moments in time, about finding something in everyday existence that people can relate to, yet presenting such feelings in a grand and operatic manner. That's in no small part accomplished by the magical visuals, the breathtaking beauty of the film. As Makoto Shinkai says in the interview, it's not about presenting the reality of a location, but presenting the memory of a reality, which will be tinged by the emotion of the moment.
It also makes 5 Centimetres Per Second difficult to review in the traditional sense, because everyone who watches it will probably react to the event portrayed in different ways. In addition to that, watch it on different days, and your feelings towards the film will be affected by how you are feeling at that particular moment. Feel good about the world, and there is much that will lift and inspire you, feel down, and you'll find something to reflect your pessimism. What's fascinating is that even while this is a series of moments, set years apart, there is something of a narrative flow to them. The stories are connected after all. More importantly, even though we only get small snapshots into these lives, there is enough here to invest us with the characters, you feel their hopes and fears, sympathise with their trials, cheer them on as they try to connect to each other.
Being a cynic, and inexorably diving towards middle age, I found the message of 5 Centimetres Per Second to reflect that cynicism, describe a loss of innocence, and an increase in bitterness that comes with age and experience, also reflecting the shells that people build around themselves, to avoid being hurt. And then they look back on their youth with a sense of loss. The first story captures Takaki and Akari when they were 13, an age when everything seems possible, while the smallest impediment seems like a mountain to climb. They are best friends torn apart by circumstance, with one last chance to meet, but it looks as if they wont be able to. But at that age, there is still a belief in fairy tales and happy endings, and the single-minded determination to make those endings come to pass.
Not so much at age 17, where people have started to wall their feelings off. There's still a cute sense of awkwardness about the way Kanae tries to get close to Takaki, to try and confess her feelings. But her awkwardness is bound up in all aspects of her life, the crossroads coming where she has to choose about her future, and even the comparatively trivial desire to learn how to surf. At the same time, Takaki remains distant, eyes always focusing elsewhere. He's still corresponding with Akari, but by this point, the distance is beginning to tell in their friendship.
There's something surprisingly sad about the final segment, and it's not just that we catch Takaki at an emotional low point in his life, career stalling, and relationships ending. It just feels so disappointing that in their mid-twenties, people are already looking back on their childhood as a lost age of golden dreams, of boundless optimism. To be worn down by life at that young age seems desperately unfair. Yet it is because we are just capturing moments, with Akari's impending marriage, and Takaki's depression that it seems that way. But what is evident is that innocence of childhood, that belief that anything is possible if you want it enough, is by now a forgotten thing, the realities of life have made such beliefs impossible. But even with that realisation, 5 Centimetres Per Second reminds us that the most important thing of all, hope, is something that we never lose.
5 Centimetres Per Second is an achingly beautiful film, but despite that, or maybe because of that, it's a film that will break your heart. But it will do that in the best possible way. It's a film that everyone should see, anime fan or not. Now if Manga Entertainment could get the rights to, and re-release Voices of a Distant Star, and The Place Promised In Our Early Days, the world would be a better place.