December 12, 2008
This movie made me want to hunt down some cherry trees and find out whether petals really do fall at five centimeters a second. Who figures this stuff out?
STORY – It’s simple and quaint. It’s a story about time and distance that most people could probably relate to on some level. It’s cute and poignant, but I did feel that it was a little over-dramatic. The movie is split into three segments set years apart, though there are several flashbacks sequences contained within each segment. As a result, the storytelling felt a bit choppy — especially in the first segment, I had a really hard time figuring out just how much time had passed between the characters meeting and the characters parting. And when I did figure it out… six months isn’t that long, guys. Get over it. Letter writing is cute, but since it seems to be set in the present time, I have to wonder whether they had cell phones or email. Drifting can be avoided if you try hard enough.
Okay, so drifting because of distance is an inevitable occurrence for a lot of people. I can definitely relate to that, and I can definitely understand that, but it felt a little contrived for such strong feelings to be affecting elementary-age students and even middle school-age students. Nostalgia comes much later than that. The finality of departure doesn’t hit home as you’re saying goodbye; it comes much, much later. (And again, I feel like I can say this because I’ve been through it.) Maybe 5 Centimeters per Second is supposed to illustrate the most severe scenario, but I think it would have been a bit more believable if the story hadn’t started them so young.
Still, if that’s my only complaint, then I guess it isn’t much. The themes of the movie are powerful, and the storytelling is very effective in helping to convey the message. It’s very bittersweet.
CHARACTERS – Most of the characters were just a tad on the obsessive side, and they all thought on too high and deep a level for their age. I think it would have helped the audience relate to them more if they had been a little less serious, a little more playful, and had a little less tunnel-vision, but for a short movie, I guess a narrow focus on the themes at hand was important. Akari was probably the most normal character, but Takaki and Kanae were almost to the point where I wouldn’t have been surprised if someone had recommended them psychological counsel. (Also, what’s up with these characters’ parents? Who lets their elementary-age kid take a train four or five hours away, alone, during a blizzard?)
Realism points are a little lacking, but I don’t really think individual personalities were all that important to the overall movie. The story’s focus was time and distance, so it’s beneficial for the characters to be more generic and anonymous. That allows the viewer to project whatever personal feelings they have on the subject onto the characters. 5 Centimeters per Second feels like a pretty personal piece in general — every viewer walks away from it with something different, depending on their own experiences.
ARTSTYLE & ANIMATION – The art in this movie is ridiculous. It was so beautiful, I had a terrible time remembering to read subtitles, though I almost think that if I had seen this dubbed, I would have forgotten to pay attention to the dialogue anyway. It was just that mesmerizing. Every little detail you could possibly imagine — it was there. The labels on soft drinks, the posters on the walls, the reflections on desks, the dew on leaves, the dappled sunlight under trees, the inscriptions on subway turnstiles! I always wonder whether background artists are bitter that their grand masterpieces are only shown for all of a second in most cases. I wanted to keep pausing to stare at the details. And the clouds. Oh, god, the clouds, the sky. I could have watched those skies forever. It was actually really disorienting to see such epic skies because they were too amazing to be realistic, and my brother was making jokes about whether or not such skies existed only in Japan because we sure as hell have never seen anything that breathtaking over here! Still, the grandeur nature of the skies really helped to illustrate distance and isolation. If the scoring for the art is based on the backgrounds alone, I’d give it an 11.
The characters are strikingly plain against such incredible backgrounds, but that’s not a surprise. There is nothing particularly notable about any of them, which works well enough — they’re anonymous people in a way. Their story could be anyone’s. Still, there are some inconsistencies in the character design that’s worth noting. Especially for Kanae of the second “episode,” it seemed like her relative age changed in every scene because her proportions would be different and her face would be slightly off. In her school uniform, she looked thirteen. In her bathing suit, she looked seventeen or older. I can deal with simple character designs against backgrounds of such amazing caliber, but come on.
MUSIC – There’s pretty minimal music for most of this movie, which makes many of its scenes all the more thoughtful and poignant. Most of the time, there are only soft piano tunes creeping in quietly behind the dialogue, which is really nice. Unfortunately, the movie ends with the most obnoxious and random song imaginable. Okay, actually, the song isn’t actually that bad, but the fact is that its beat, tempo, and general mood clash horribly with everything in the movie. The montage of scenes it accompanies would have done just immeasurably better with the piano from the rest of the film, or even silence or sound effects, but no. We get a random pop song that doesn’t fit. Do not want.
VOICE ACTING – Saw this subbed, and all the voices felt pretty plain and generic, but nothing really sophisticated was required anyway. I think it would have been hard to do a bad job with this. It’s almost all introspection, and the voices were appropriately thoughtful, so that’s that.
OVERALL – Despite the fact that the subject and themes of 5 Centimeters per Second are actually pretty relevant to me, a lot of things distracted me from the main point. The art was arguably too beautiful, and all the little inconsistencies and lack of realism in the characters bothered me more than it probably should have. Honestly though, it’s a really nice and concise story, and I’d definitely say that this movie is worth sacrificing an hour of your life for. As a final note, I think it’s worth mentioning that I really like the name of this film. Depending on your perspective, that speed can seem too slow or too fast for falling cherry blossoms. It’s a distant metaphor, but it’s a fitting one.