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R2 DVD Reviews
Thursday, 03 March 2011 00:00
5 Centimeters per Second5 Centimeters per Second is the latest piece from Makoto Shinkai, and if you've seen his previous titles, you'll know he has a theme that he likes to stick to - or run into the ground, if you're being less charitable. That theme is revisited / flogged some more here, and to be honest I put on the disc expecting to be underwhelmed by more of the same. Uh, no. Most definitely not...

1 - Cherry Blossom
5cm per second: the speed that cherry blossoms fall at on their way from branch to ground. That's what Akari Shinohara once claimed to her friend Takaki Tono, anyway. The pair became very close after Akari transferred into Takaki's school, but on graduation her family moved away again, forcing them to keep in touch by mail - and as anyone who's every had a long-distance relationship will know, it's very easy to drift apart when distance comes between you. On learning that his own family will soon be moving from Tokyo to Kageshima, though, Takaki makes a determined effort to see Akari one more time, before the distance between them becomes even greater...

TakakiReunion

2 - Cosmonaut
1999. Takaki, now in his final year of senior high and living in Tanegashima, has an admirer: classmate Kanae Sumida, who's been keeping herself close to him but who, so far, hasn't had the courage to confess her feelings to him. In fact, she could be said to have fallen into the "friend zone", as that's what Takaki sees her as - he's completely oblivious to the true feelings that are running so close to the surface. She's curious, though, about the emails that Takaki can often be found writing, and begins to realise that his heart is lying somewhere else...

KanaeRealisation

3 - 5 Centimeters per Second
2008. Takaki's living in Tokyo, working as a programmer - although his continuing obsession with Akari is taking its toll on his personal life, leaving his love-life in tatters, him on the verge of a breakdown and in danger of losing his job. Akari also lives in Tokyo now, and is about to be married. Going through her belongings before the big day, she finds the letter she's written for Takaki so many years before, and that she'd never given to him. She's been dreaming of Takaki lately, of the last night they spent together, walking in the snow - a scene that's also been on Takaki's mind...

Paths crossPlanning her future

The theme of Shinkai's previous titles, Voices of a Distant Star and The Place Promised in our Early Days, was separation: in the first, trying to maintain a relationship over relativistic distances, and in the latter of trying to remake a relationship after a separation that had seemed permanent. This outing plays more into the second camp - it's primarily about the effect that being separated from Akari has on the course of Takaki's life, and it has to be said that it isn't pretty - but in amongst the trainwreck that Takaki's life threatens to become is dropped the bit where 5cm really shines: the second segment, and Kanae.

But one thing at a time. Takaki is the "star" of the show, for want of a better word, and to say that he's obsessed would be an understatement. I'm not sure that it's even Akari that he's obsessed with, as much as the memories of her that are attached with thoughts of better days, but from the day she leaves Tokyo and leaves him behind his life begins a downward run that, depending on how you interpret the ending, shows no sign of ending. From visiting her and writing letters (the early arc of the movie takes place at a time before cellphones and the internet, and the story probably couldn't have happened if they'd been on the scene), he goes to writing emails that never get sent, and dreaming about meetings that never have and never will happen. It's obsession on a massive, frightening, and hugely destructive scale, and if that were all that the movie were about I'd have a hard time recommending it.

But dropped into the middle comes the story of Kanae, a girl who loves Takaki but who eventually comes to realise that she's on a hiding to nowhere, that Takaki's heart and mind are forever elsewhere. In a way it's a heartbreaking story all of it's own - it doesn't need the bookends of the other two arcs to make it work - but in the way that Kanae deals with her realisation, the way that she picks herself up, dusts herself down and (quite literally) gets back on the board she serves as an example that Takaki could have learnt from - if only his mind weren't so irretrievably elsewhere. This was the part of the movie that was the most emotionally engaging for me, as you can't help but feel for Kanae and her unrequited love, which is clearly painful for her - but you also know that she's going to be okay.

I suspect that how you respond to the story will also be coloured by your own personal experience. Some of the situations that are portrayed here, I can relate to because I've been there - shifting friendships caused by frequently moving home, wanting someone you know you can't have, turning down what was possible for a dream that wasn't - these are all things I've experienced first-hand, and other people will have other aspects of 5cm that they're able to check off and say "Yup, I've been there...". Having those experiences helps you understand the movie itself, as while it goes to great lengths to say as much as it can through the narrations that Takaki, Akari and Kanae provide, there's also a lot that's left unsaid for you to divine for yourself, and that's where your mileage may vary a little. It's very easy to dismiss this as just another rehash of the same old theme, another shameless attempt to pull on the heartstrings to get an emotional response (and yes, I may have brushed a dust speck or two out of my eyes during Kanae's segment), but that's doing it a dis-service - yes, Shinkai is guilty of rehashing and yes, he really should get a new theme to work with, but he's shown with 5 Centimeters per Second that there was enough left in the theme for one last hurrah, and it has turned out, against my expectations, to be another thoroughly worthwhile piece of work. Extremely well done, and absolutely worth seeing.

Rating - *****

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