PUBLISHED 1 JULY 2016
JAPANESE animation has always evolved and adapted to reach new audiences. Responding to this change, Studio Ghibli creator Hayao Miyazaki has stated that most current anime is “produced by humans who can’t stand looking at other humans”. This comment could not be any more apposite to the works of Makoto Shinkai, whose unique story structure and art style not only echo Miyazaki’s assertion, but take it to new heights. Probing into the bittersweet and emotional moments in life, 5 CENTIMETERS PER SECOND (BYÔSOKU 5 SENCHIMÊTORU 2007) provides an insight into the growth and development of young minds and their associated conflicts.
Split into three parts, 5 CENTIMETERS PER SECOND conveys a resonant and highly accurate depiction of young love, fate and distant separation. The first line used in the film is a simple anecdote from one young friend to another: “They say it’s five centimeters per second… the speed at which cherry blossoms fall”. The line of dialogue establishes a strong metaphor for young relationships. Cherry blossom petals grow in unison on the branch but eventually they all fall. Scattered in the wind, two petals that have grown close together may travel a vast distance apart. This is evocative of the sometimes slow, yet always unpredictable, nature of life and love and is reflected in the characters of Takaki Tōno (Kenji Mizuhashi) and Akari Shinohara (Yoshimi Kondō).
Takaki takes a long train journey to visit Akari, the childhood friend who moved away but whom he has subsequently come to love. His sole burden, a confessional letter, is swiftly taken from him by the wind on a harsh winter’s night. Breaking down in tears on the train, the young Takaki seems to question the distance that has been created between Akari and himself and how fate seems so intent on keeping the two apart.
The film provides a dark reminder of the dangers of young love in the form of the film’s third and final act. The audience are offered an outlook on a life without love through an individual who has never learned how to let go. By this time, Akari has moved on in her adult life, acknowledging the physical distance between them and the signs that their love was never meant to be. Meanwhile, Takaki struggles on in an unrewarding job causing an onset of mental health issues.
5 CENTIMETERS PER SECOND explores many themes, but one forgotten in the confusion of young love is acceptance and the recognition that sometimes moving on is the best way forward, contrary to our personal feelings. The film demonstrates the ideal that love does not always last and that life is no fairy tale, even for the young. 5 CENTIMETERS PER SECOND suggests that no matter how hard we try, life will not revolve around an individual. However, if we adapt to life and have the resolve to move on, we can always find our place.