I am not a big fan of anime. I find a lot of it is derivative in style and annoying in convolution. There are a few I have enjoyed—the work of Hayao Miyazaki comes to mind. Five Centimeters Per Second stands tall right alongside those great works in Japanese animation, and if I may be so bold, it bests most of them as well. This marathon has had some extreme highs and lows. I hated Werckmeister Harmonies and then adored Time of the Gypsies. In my last review I crapped all over High Strung, and now I’m going to spew nothing but overflowing praise for Five Centimeters Per Second.
First of all, Five Centimeters Per Second is beautiful to look at. It’s got some of the very best animation I’ve ever seen. It’s right up there with the incredible animated spots in Pink Floyd’s The Wall and Richard Williams’ The Thief and the Cobbler. I still don’t consider myself a fan of the anime style of character design. Characters all tend to look alike, and sometimes I actually confused the male characters with the female ones when only their faces were shown. But other than that niggling issues, Five Centimeters Per Second looks spectacular, with amazing colours, incredibly detailed and emotive backgrounds, and impressive “camera moves” that are incredibly difficult to achieve in the field of traditional animation.
The structure of the film is equally beautiful. In effect, Five Centimeters Per Second is a sixty-minute film comprised of three short films. Each short takes a jump in time, but follows the same overall story and characters. In the first we see a young boy travelling by train to meet his girlfriend in another city. The second film shows that same boy, now in his last year of high school, yearning for that girl and being yearned for by another girl who goes to his school. The third short shows the boy, now a man, having let his life become defined by his dream of being with the girl, now a woman about to be married. Through loose connective tissue, director Makoto Shinkai crafts a tender look at young, unrequited love; a story that builds on itself until it becomes overwhelmingly emotional.
That’s the most impressive achievement of the film. Where at first the story feels like the characters are investing more emotion in each other than the audience is in them, by exploring the various facets of their love for each other, the film becomes truly insightful. I don’t want to say much more about the film other than that if you haven’t seen it you must seek it out as soon as possible. It’s one of the most simple yet densely nuanced films about young love that I’ve ever seen. It’s also one of the most remarkably beautiful animated films I’ve seen, and that’s true on a number of levels. But seriously, stop reading this and go find Five Centimeters Per Second. You owe it to yourself to watch this movie.