Since I’m running short on post ideas at this time, I thought I’d take a look back at a film that I watched on a whim a little over a month ago, and watched again for the purpose of this post: 5 Centimeters per Second. Due to the generally positive buzz, I thought it was going to be good for what it was, but nothing that would wow me in anything but the visual aspect. And really, this prediction came true. The art direction and gloss of the animation is almost awe inspiringly beautiful, bearing an uncanny resemblance to the equally gorgeous Pale Cocoon. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves, okay?
5 cm/s is a depiction of a boy named Takaki and the increasing distance of his relationship with his best friend/girl of his dreams with each passing segment. The first is about Takaki looking to see Akari off before she goes to a different middle school than him, daring to cross the barren tundra of Japan by train to make it happen. The second, weaker segment is a completely unrelated story where Takaki inadvertently helps a girl, the one whose back is shown in the promotional picture, come to terms with her uncertainty over her future. And the third is a time skip where Takaki and Akari live completely separate lives as adults, never forgetting the time that they shared together. It’s more of an epilogue than an entirely different story, but still.
This is primarily a romance film, in that distinctly Japanese way of equating two people not being able to be near each other to a star-crossed romance. It’s a difficult line to walk without adding in overly pretentious navel gazing or melodrama for the sake of melodrama. Despite its admittedly well directed approach, cinematography not really being a weak point considering the medium, the framing in general is a bit weak, and it can’t help but succumb to what I listed before as unmistakable weaknesses.
With that out of the way, holy fucking hell is this film pretentious. Even the name tries to come across as something deep and meaningful, and instead pulls off the rare feat of making the movie almost insufferable to sit through based on the title alone. It’s as close as anime will ever be to those stereotypical indie romance movies, filmed in black in white with a soft, melancholy piano and viola soundtrack. The ones usually named after some unrelated sentence fragment or a word mentioned offhandedly at some point in the movie, that somehow manage to scoop up at least seven awards in film festivals worldwide for daring to depict a romance in black in white with a soft, melancholy piano and viola soundtrack.
You see, according to this film, sakura blossoms fall to the ground at a rate of, wait for it, five centimeters per second! Is this a metaphor for the aforementioned star-crossed romance? Is it just something that the characters who keep mentioning it find interesting? Nobody knows. Funny enough, it’s brought up in each of the three segments in ways even more detached from the plot and all meaning than the last, giving the impression that it’s just fucking with the audience by throwing red herrings as to the meaning square into the “It means nothing!” camp.
There’s much more to gripe about than the vapid title, fortunately for those of us who like finding things to gripe about. As I mentioned earlier, the story and characters can’t help falling into the same pitfalls that have doomed other, less well produced anime to an obscure grave, occasionally stumbled upon by an intrepid grave robber.
It’s a testament to the spotty writing that most of the “action” is taken through various internal monologues panning over beautifully rendered fields of greenery or something of the like. Yes, we know your art direction is beautiful, but that doesn’t excuse the fact that Takaki has basically repeated himself three times in this monologue alone. There really isn’t any romance, aside from a brief cuddle at the end of the first segment. It’s all angst communicated through the medium of monologue, with vocalizations of doubt with the self outnumbering time spent communicating with other people. It’s laziness at its finest, and something that would be a complete disaster in written form.
However, when taken separately, none of the segments are really that bad. Yeah, there are the overwrought monologues, but it’s usually not terribly out of place. The second drags on a bit toward the end, but even that could be forgiven if it were able to be taken on its own. There’s a false sense of connectivity that the film tries to weave though, one that doesn’t shine through as well as it should. With that, you can’t really take each part on its own merits and give it a fair overall score, since that overarching theme of diminishing communication with Akari is the focal point of the story. As such, it feels a bit rushed.
If I were grading this on animation alone, it’d be damn near impeccable and score perfect tens across the board accompanied by a standing ovation. Unfortunately for 5 Centimeters per Second, story and character matter to me a hell of a lot more than animation quality, and the writing is overall a bit hit-and-miss. If you’re in the market for a decent romance film to eat up time, and if you’re anything like me, this isn’t where you’ll want to look. It’s hardly terrible, but it falls into too many traps that would be easy to avoid with sharper writing.