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Anime / 5 Centimeters per Second

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At what speed must I live... to be able to see you again?
And bit by bit, you’ll keep changing.
Takaki Tohno

5 Centimeters Per Second (秒速5センチメートル Hepburn: Byōsoku Go Senchimētoru) is Makoto Shinkai's third film, and was released in 2007. Themes of distance and separation are explored in its narrative, although unlike his previous films, the events of 5 Centimeters Per Second take place in the real world.

The movie's focus is about two people named Takaki Tohno (Kenji Mizuhashi) and Akari Shinohara (Ayaka Onoue), following them as they mature. It is divided into three episodes that together make up the movie. The first part, "Cherry Blossoms", follows Takaki's reflections on his relationship with Akari while they were children. The second act, "Cosmonaut", leaves Akari to depict Takaki as a teenager and is told from Kanae Sumida's (Satomi Hanamura) perspective. The final part, which is also called "5 Centimeters Per Second", shows them as young adults, mainly through a montage set to the famous Japanese pop song "One More Time, One More Chance".

The title 5 Centimeters Per Second refers to the speed at which Cherry Blossom petals fall and acts as a metaphor for the nature of love and human relationships.

In addition to a 2010 manga and 2007 light novel adaptation, both written by Shinkai himself, there is also another novel, One More Side. Written by longtime Shinkai noveliser Arata Kanoh and first published 2011 but only getting an English translation in 2019, it offers alternate perspectives on the film, such as Akari's side of the first act's events. The 2007 novel will be getting an English translation in 2021 in a combined release with the novel for Children Who Chase Lost Voices.

5 Centimeters Per Second provides examples of:

  • Absence Makes the Heart Go Yonder: This is subverted to some degree: while Takaki's mind does indeed go yonder, his heart remains fixated on one constant point: this accounts for Kanae's observation that he is always looking toward something distant, and fails to notice people around him. For most of the movie, he is unable to have the individual who invoked such feelings in him because he is too rigid to move toward anyone — until the end, at which point he becomes capable of taking control of his own life and driving it in the direction that he wants it to go. To this end, his heart has not gone yonder; rather, it becomes a little more malleable and open.
  • Adaptation Expansion:
    • The manga adaptation provides additional insight for all of the characters. Takaki's relationship with Risa and experiences in adulthood are portrayed in a level of detail not offered by the film, and it concludes with exclusive content for Kanae after the events of the film proper. With her life passing through the same cycle of entering and leaving relationships, she ultimately decides to confront her feelings head-on by trying to meet up with Takaki. Contrasting Takaki's implied meeting with Akari, Kanae decides to pursue him when she appears to have found him again.
    • The novel also expands on the story, but differently. Takaki's life after returning to Tokyo from Tanegashima is depicted in greater detail, including the fact that he had at least two girlfriends before Risa. Unlike the manga, he never goes back to Iwafune Station, still gets broken up with via email and Kanae's final chapter is not included.
    • Both the manga and One more side show what happened on Akari's side of things in the third act, albeit with more detail in the latter.
  • Airplane of Love: A rocket launch mirrors how distant Takaki is to Kanae, rapidly ascending out of reach with every passing moment.
  • Air Voyance: The Fully Automatic Clip Show in the third act includes a flashback to Takaki leaving the southern islands as Kanae watches his plane depart, although the fact that Tanegashima is a small community with few flights would make it easier for Kanae to determine which flight he's on.
  • Alien Sky: Takaki's recurring dreams feature sweeping panoramas of familiar landscapes juxtaposed with skies featuring unique sights.
  • All Love Is Unrequited: The driving force behind the story, this movie illustrates how reality does not follow the "happily ever after" route, and how love is sometimes unrealised.
  • Ambiguous Situation: Takaki comes across a woman who resembles Akari at the train crossing, but it's intentionally left ambiguous as to whether or not he really encounters Akari here to illustrate that Akari or not, he's content to move forwards with his life.
  • Arc Number: Five, in the form of "Five X per Y". First said by Akari in the first act as "five centimeters per second", the speed at which cherry blossom petals fall, then said by Kanae in the second act as "five kilometers per hour" regarding the speed of a massive transporter for a rocket that shows up later. It connects the two main girls in Takaki's life, and judging by his surprised reaction to the second use, the link might not have escaped him either.
  • Ascended Extra: Kanae's big sister isn't exactly a nonentity in the film proper, but One more side gives her a few vital scenes with Takaki.
  • Bittersweet Ending: While Takaki quit his first job and broke up with his girlfriend, he gradually takes control of his life and begins to overcome the lonely and bitter feelings that he's been nursing for fifteen years. Takaki eventually finds a job as a freelance developer. The manga gives him a Maybe Ever After with Kanae.
  • Bland-Name Product:
    • McDonalge, a fast food chain in Takaki's recollections.
    • A Starberks Coffee is located in one of the train stations.
    • Takaki glances at his Ocasi digital watch several times en route to Iwafune.
    • A Windows Vasta magazine can be seen in a convenience store that Takaki visits as an adult.
    • As an adult, Takaki walks past a "Merhes" shop.
    • The LogiCool mouse at Takaki's workplace seems to be this at first, but this is the actual branding used by Logitech in Japan.
  • Bookends: The film begins and ends with Takaki and Akari at the railway crossing with Cherry Blossoms falling around them.
  • Broad Strokes: The novel and manga share the same general outline as the film, but while much of the added content can plausibly fit in gaps left by the film, there are some elements that cannot be reconciled, like Takaki amicably breaking up with Risa in person in the manga whereas in the film, novel and One more side the breakup is via email instead.
  • Call-Back:
    • In the third act, Akari recalls the first and Last Kiss she had with Takaki back in the first act after having unearthed the letter she had intended to pass to him back then but didn't.
    • The manga's rendition of the second act briefly cuts to Akari standing beside the cherry blossom tree she kissed Takaki under as she wonders what's become of him.
  • Cannot Spit It Out: Kanae struggles to tell Takaki that she's deeply in love with him.
  • Caught the Heart on His Sleeve: Kanae grabs Takaki's sleeve and tries to confess her love, but it never really works out.
  • Cherry Blossoms: First mentioned by Akari, the rate at which cherry blossoms fall under normal circumstances acts as a metaphor for falling in love.
  • Chirping Crickets: Cicadas are vociferous in the second act, providing an aural cue that occupies the awkward silences Kanae experiences while attempting to express her feelings to Takaki.
  • Cigarette of Anxiety: Owing to the stresses arising from his job, Takaki is shown to have taken up smoking by the third act.
  • Contrived Coincidence:
    • In the final act, Takaki and Akari - or is it? - end up passing through the same railway crossing at the same time, near the neighbourhood they'd spent time in together as children.
    • The final scene of the manga has the implication that Takaki just happens to pass by where Kanae is taking a phone call, despite the sheer implausibility of him just happening to be in the right place and time in a city of over 2,000 square kilometres' land area and almost 14 million inhabitants.
  • Did Not Get the Girl: In spite of the optimistic ending, Takaki and Akari never get together.
  • Diegetic Switch: The famous J-ballad "One More Time, One More Chance" by Masayoshi Yamazaki is first heard playing in low fidelity from a convenience store's speakers, but transitions into the soundtrack itself, in the final act.
  • Dramatic Irony:
    • In the second act, Kanae suffers greatly due to her inability to tell Takaki that she loves him, not knowing as the audience does that Takaki's own inability to communicate his feelings for Akari is causing their relationship to unravel.
    • In the manga rendition of the third act, Risa waits for Takaki outside his office building and tells him that he took such a step because she didn't want the relationship to end in a manner that's not face-to-face. Those who watched the film first will know that that's exactly what happens at least in the film and novels.
  • Drowning My Sorrows: During the Fully Automatic Clip Show in the third act, it cuts from Takaki's ex-girlfriend to him at a bar, briefly shows a flash of the two of them sleeping at opposite sides of a bed and then returns to him drowning a drink, clearly implying this.
  • Environmental Symbolism: Weather conveys the characters' internal feelings as effectively as the dialogue. The first act's cold, dark lighting reflect Takaki's emotional distance from those around him and his troubled mind on the way to Akari in Tochigi. In the final act, Takaki breaks up with Risa and falls into a depression during the winter, but by the springtime and attendant return of the light, he begins moving forwards with his life.
  • Expy: Takaki incorporates elements derived from the male leads in Shinkai's previous works, and also shares some similarities with Jay Gatsby.
  • Fantasy Sequence: According to the novel, the various sequences where we follow a bird in flight over landscapes are supposed to be Takaki's imagination, with the bird as his avatar.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • You know the tune of the background music in the scene where Takaki and Akari part ways when they're 13 after meeting for the first time in years? Sure is pretty, ain't it? It's actually taken from a pop song, "One More Time, One More Chance", which was 10 years old at the time of this film's release and had a correspondingly large penetration of the Japanese populace. It's about a man who persistently longs for his doomed love. If you know what the song is about beforehand, then you probably had a pretty good idea of where the plot of the movie was going.
    • When his train is caught in the snowstorm in the first act, Takaki hopes that Akari went home rather than wait for him out in the cold. And while she does wait for him this time, by the time of the third act, she doesn't bother any longer.
    • There are various mentions of the Japanese space programme scattered throughout the second act, well before the rocket launch actually happens.
    • In One more side, Risa becomes distressed when Takaki guesses she has an older brother. Three chapters later, we learn why.
  • Fully Automatic Clip Show: A large part of the third act is comprised of small slices of Takaki and Akari's life throughout the years between the first and third acts set music video-style to "One More Time, One More Chance".
  • Genre Deconstruction: Of the intensely personal, one-on-one, endlessly melodramatic Japanese school romance stories. 5 Centimeters Per Second sets up a highly idealistic romantic setup not unlike many other Japanese romance stories in anime and manga (or even Makoto Shinkai's earlier works), only to then crush this dream with the truly tragic yet absolutely inevitable force of reality. No matter how strong one's love to another may be, no matter how much happiness has love brought to the lovers, no matter how much the lovers desire to preserve their love forever, the real factors of distance and time will slowly grind the relationship away to nothingness, and to still dwell on this love will bring nothing but depressive emotional trauma.
  • Gratuitous English: As with most of Shinkai's other movies, it has a Japanese title (Byōsoku Go Senchimētoru/"5 Centimeters Per Second") but an English subtitle; in this case: A Chain Of Short Stories About Their Distance.
  • Heroic BSoD: In the manga, Takaki takes Risa to Iwafune Station in an attempt to work out his issues regarding Akari, only to freeze up and be unable to follow her off the train. The train departs with him still on board.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: According to One more side, Takaki spends a lot of time struggling with trying to recapture the magic of the kiss he shares with Akari in Tochigi, something he finds words keep failing him on, and thus he chooses not to bother for fear of cheapening the moment. Unfortunately, all this does is prevent him from meaningfully communicating with Akari, contributing to the decay of their relationship.
  • Imagine Spot: In the novel, as Kanae's career adviser is quizzing her on her plans after high school, her imagination conjures up some strange images of Tokyo.
  • In Medias Res:
    • The last third begins on March 2008, with Takaki working at home before going for a walk. He then sees Akari again at the railway crossing, whereby the rest of the segment flashes back to him at his old job and old (or at least messy) apartment. It is still implied he had finished his three year relationship by this point, due to the date on the text from his ex-girlfriend showing February 2008. Of course once the ending sequence begins, the vast majority is in the form of flash backs since it goes back to their childhood, before returning to the present day.
    • One more side's take on "Cherry Blossoms" starts with a grown Akari during the events of the third act, thinking of the past and the letter she never gave Takaki, then flashes back years to before her family moved to Tokyo and she met him.
  • I Will Wait for You: This is implied in the second act and subverted in the third act: In the period between the end of part two and the beginning of part three, Takaki has had at least one long-term relationship with another woman, and Akari has become engaged to another man.
  • Inelegant Blubbering: In the novel, after reading Risa's breakup email, Takaki breaks down in tears likened to a melting iceberg.
  • Just Friends: Takaki becomes thus to Akari (possibly) when she doesn't turn back, and Kanae to Takaki when she doesn't reveal her feelings for him.
  • Kissing Discretion Shot: Akari stands on her tip-toes to kiss Takaki under the sakura tree before they spend the night together.
  • Last Kiss: Takaki and Akari share a (first and) last kiss at the end of the first chapter. The remaining two chapters are about their separate lives afterward. Heartbreak ensues.
  • Last-Name Basis: One of the signs that Takaki never feels anything for Kanae is that he always calls her by her surname, whereas he addresses Akari by her given name.
  • Leave the Camera Running: The final Vehicle Vanish shot, set to the final guitar riffs of "One More Time, One More Chance", is noticeably longer than other scenes in the film, and concludes after the trains have passed to reveal that the woman has walked on.
  • Lighter and Softer: Unlike the previous two of Shinkai's films with their life-and-death violence and bloodshed, there's not even a low-stakes playground punchup to be had here.
  • Lonely Piano Piece: The piano pieces in the soundtrack convey a gentle and melancholy tone, appropriate for capturing themes of longing and distance within the film.
  • Long-Distance Relationship: Takaki and Akari share letters over long distance as youth, but when Takaki moves to the southern islands, their communication ceases, and their relationship gradually fades.
  • Love at First Sight: Kanae mentions experiencing this with regards to Takaki. Her inability to voice her feelings, however, cause her no small amount of angst.
  • Loving a Shadow: In his adulthood, Takaki appears to be in love with an abstraction of Akari, rather than Akari herself. Consequently, he finds it difficult to make meaningful relationships with those around him, leading his girlfriend, Risa, to remark that he feels distant in spite of all the time they've spent together.
  • Maybe Ever After: The manga has Kanae finding Takaki, after his encounter with the woman who might have been Akari, and resolving to follow her love for him.
  • Men Can't Keep House: One of the signs of the loneliness Takaki experiences in the third act is the messy state of his apartment, including but not limited to an undone bed and empty beer cans haphazardly strewn about. According to One more side, though, he wasn't much for tidiness even before the breakup with Risa.
  • Mr. Imagination: Takaki imagines sequences where he is a bird flying over landscapes, and in his teenage years had dreams of being on an exotic alien planet with a woman who looks like Akari.
  • New Transfer Student: Owing to their parents' work, Takaki and Akari transfer to different schools throughout the story, bringing them together in the beginning but separating them as time passes on.
  • Next Sunday A.D.: The third act takes place in 2008, a year after the film's 2007 release.
  • No Antagonist: There are no external forces acting to separate Akari and Takaki for malicious reasons.
  • Nostalgia Filter: In the novel's rendition of the third act, now-adult Takaki thinks to himself how Tokyo seems more coarse and dirty than he remembered it being when he was a boy.
  • Parasol of Prettiness: Akari does a small dance with her umbrella in hand at the beginning of Cherry Blossoms.
  • Product Placement: In "Cosmonaut", Takaki and Kanae ride Honda scooters.
  • P.O.V. Sequel: One more side depicts "Cherry Blossoms" from Akari's perspective and "Cosmonaut" from Takaki's.
  • Real-Place Background: The various locales shown in the anime are inspired by locations in Tokyo.
  • Red Oni, Blue Oni: Akari is blue, Kanae is red.
  • Sad-Times Montage: The third act portrays a flashback of Takaki experiencing the aftermath of his breakup with his girlfriend and ensuing depression.
  • Scenery Porn: The artwork is awe-inspiring; the sheer volume of detail present in the movie, especially with respect to some of the minor scenes and background elements, almost makes reality look drab by comparison.
  • She Is Not My Girlfriend: Takaki says this in the second act when a classmate calls Kanae his girlfriend.
  • Shout-Out:
    • In one of Takaki's flashbacks during "Cherry Blossoms", Akari stops to pet a cat named Chobi, and remarks that it must be lonely for him without Mimi around; in Shinkai's short She and Her Cat, Chobi is the name of the titular cat, and he has a lady-friend (also a cat) named Mimi.
    • The satellite belt in Takaki's recurring dreams bears resemblance to the Union's tower in Shinkai's previous work, The Place Promised in Our Early Days. The cover of the railway book that Takaki buys in the first act is an environment shot from the same.
    • As in both Voices of a Distant Star and The Place Promised in Our Early Days, there is an extended shot of two characters watching a long vehicle pass.
  • Shrinking Violet: One more side shows that Akari used to be shy and withdrawn.
  • Slow-Motion Pass-By: When Takaki and Akari pass each other at the train tracks at the end, the picture briefly slows down.
  • Snow Means Death: While Akari and Takaki spend time together under a quiet snowfall, the snow also is set during the death of their relationship; it's the last time in the movie Akari and Takaki are together in person. In the third act, it's also in the snowing winter that Takaki's then-girlfriend Risa breaks up with him.
  • Snow Means Love: Takaki and Akari kiss under the Sakura tree for the first time. While it signifies love, it also signifies the coldness Takaki feels when faced with the prospect of being separated from her.
  • Soundtrack Dissonance:
    • The jarringly up-beat pop music in the second chapter sharply contrasts the landscapes and mood: One song piped in to the convenience store crows "daijobu da yo (It's all right)" while Kanae suffers her unrequited love in silence. In another case Kanae on her bike is passed by her sister playing similarly upbeat and indelicate tunes. This seems to be a mordant joke about the interference of the modern world with even the potential solace of Scenery Porn in the midst of disappointment. The sonic environment is being destroyed.
    • The third chapter, on the other hand, shows the protagonist browsing magazine racks with "One More Time, One More Chance" playing in the convenience store.
  • Star-Crossed Lovers:
    • Forces outside of Takaki or Akari's control drive a distance between them, as their parents must move for their work.
    • For Kanae, her tearful confession is cut off by a rocket launch, and she ultimately decides against letting Takaki know of her feelings on the basis that he appeared to be longing for something beyond what she could offer.
  • Stepford Smiler:
    • According to One more side, Akari spent much of the time after her family's move to Tochigi putting up a brave front in public to hide the pain of being separated from Takaki.
    • Also from there, Risa managed to hide the pain of losing her older brother when she was younger to apparent suicide from Takaki and presumably everyone else through 2 years of dating before accidentally letting slip.
  • Surprisingly Realistic Outcome: Long Distance Relationships have to be worked at if they are to survive. Takaki and Akari's communication with each other slows and eventually dies out, and the relationship unravels; by the time they are adults, although Takaki has been nursing the feelings for years, his inability to properly convey this means Akari has not. In fact, she has gotten engaged to another man and doesn't even recognise Takaki when they cross paths, maybe, the final time onscreen.
  • Tempting Fate:
    • The novel's rendition of the second act has Kanae think that if she and Takaki watch a rocket launch together, the shared experience will draw them together. Instead, as mentioned in Airplane of Love, it merely serves as a sign of how far apart they are instead.
    • Late in the second act, Kanae says that if she doesn't successfully confess to Takaki after having finally regained her surfing skills, she'll never be able to do it. No prizes for guessing that it doesn't work out.
    • In the third act, Takaki voices his belief that Akari will turn to greet him after they pass each other at the railway crossing. This too doesn't come to pass.
  • Theme-and-Variations Soundtrack: Most of the soundtrack pieces are rearrangements of either "Distant Everyday Memories" or "One More Time, One More Chance", sometimes even incorporating both.
  • Time Skip: Each act is separated by the passage of a few years.
  • Title Drop: The movie opens with Akari explaining to Takaki that cherry blossoms fall at a rate of five centimeters per second.
  • Tokyo Is the Center of the Universe: A double subversion is seen; the first act opens in Tokyo, and Akari follows her parents when they move to Tochigi for work. The second act is set in Tanegashima, the southern island Takaki moves to, and the third act has both Takaki and Akari return to Tokyo.
  • Tomboy and Girly Girl: Akari and Kanae never meet in the movie, but Akari is noticeably more intelligent whereas Kanae is noticeably more physically active and assertive. This is played with in the reverse direction: Kanae comes across as being more emotionally fragile than Akari.
  • Train-Station Goodbye: When the two lovers finally part at the end of the first act, they leave behind their innocence and unspoken emotions. Both can only watch as the distance between them begins growing in both a figurative and literal sense.
  • True Love's Kiss: Despite Takaki and Akari sharing a kiss early on, life for Takaki remains somewhat of a challenge from there until the ending of the final act.
  • Umbrella of Togetherness: Some of Takaki and Akari's classmates have drawn the umbrella symbol on the blackboard with Takaki and Akari's names under it to tease Akari. When Takaki enters, he clears the offending material and takes off with Akari to his classmates' surprise.
  • Unlucky Childhood Friend: All three characters find woe in matters of the heart, but Kanae fits the trope best, as she's not a main focus character.
  • Vehicle Vanish: In the final shot of the film, Takaki walks through the train crossing from the first scene at the same time that a woman who might be Akari does so too. After they pass each other, he turns to check, but a train obstructs the view; by the time it's gone, so is she.