If you read my marathon Your Name piece, then one film that came up quite often was 5 Centimeters per Second (Byōsoku Go Senchimētoru) (to be abbreviated: 5 cm/s), a previous film from director Makoto Shinkai. The slow beauty of 5 Centimeters Per Second isn’t for everyone. While I briefly touched on the themes and cinematography of 5 cm/s when comparing it to Your Name, it came off as though I was tearing into 5 cm/s pretty hard. To do it justice, I would like to examine the slow, subtle, and tragic beauty of 5 cm/s.

Slow And Steady

Life isn’t always fast-paced. It isn’t always a rollercoaster. It isn’t always moving at a rate where weeks feel like mere days. No, sometimes life is slow, to a painful extent. Where days can feel like weeks. 

Previously to Your Name, as a director, Shinkai was notorious for having slow pacing in all of his works. From Voices of a Distant Star to the Garden of Words, all of his works were slow to an almost painful degree. It wasn’t until Your Name that Shinkai broke his trend of slow films. Because of the pacing, his films certainly weren’t for everyone. Many people would be turned off from him as a director due to his pacing. Yet, examined in the context of  5 cm/s, the egregiously slow pace makes a lot of sense for 5 cm/s, and is a significant contributing factor to the film’s overall theme and tone.

Context Is Everything

To briefly recap, 5 cm/s centers around two lovers, Takaki and Akari. A friendship blossoms between them after Akari transfers to Takaki’s school. At the end of elementary school, and as they approach middle school, they realize they have more than just a friendship between them. Unfortunately, before middle school starts Akari and her family move away due to her parent’s job, and she has to transfer schools. She and Takaki are able to maintain what is between them, as she’s still just a train ride away. 

Throughout middle school, Akari’s family keeps moving further away, so Takaki and Akari have to overcome greater and greater distances to see each other. It all comes to a head near the end of their middle school lives, where Takaki and his family move to the other side of the country. Takaki and Akari make plans to see each other one last time, but they are stifled by a snowstorm. Their time together is cut short, and they are granted only a few more moments with each other.

Everlasting Sorrow

The next time we see Takaki, he is in his final year of high school. And from what is gathered, he is still deeply longing for Akari, so much so that he’s cold towards another classmate, Kanae, seeking his affection. To put it bluntly, Takaki is in quite the depressed state, even three years after seeing Akari for the last time. 

And this theme, this mood projected over the entire movie, is not only enhanced by the slow pacing. The pacing also contributes to this mood. Speaking from personal experience, often times the saddest times in life move slow. This is something I’m sure everyone reading has experienced at points in their lives. When feeling sad or lonely, what feels like days or weeks can only actually be hours. The slow pacing of 5 cm/s, is a way of making the audience empathize with Takaki. Things are moving slowly in the film because Takai’s sorrow is causing his life to feel slow as well.

While again, the pacing may not be for every audience, it makes sense and is a crucial part to the film when examined through this lens. 

5 Centimeters Per Second
Image Credit: Makoto Shinkai/CoMix Wave Films

Left In A Vacuum

A slow pace wasn’t the only part of Shinkai’s staple film making. Another highly criticised aspect was the often abrupt, satisfying conclusions that he would often end his films on. I’ll refrain from spoiling the precise ending of  5 cm/s, but it is of course, in classic Shinkai style, abrupt and unsatisfying. It certainly doesn’t work out the way the audience wants it to work out.

And yet, that’s just life isn’t it? Not everything works out the way you might want or desire. Sometimes things come to an end too soon. Or sometimes things never get resolved, and closure is never reached. Sometimes the longing for a past love, or the longing for better days, never gets satisfied. That longing may never go away, just as it never really did for Takaki. Sometimes it just becomes a part of life. Just something to deal with, that eventually becomes a smaller and smaller part of your life as time goes on. 

Music From the Mood

I had critiqued  5 cm/s ‘s music as being unnoticeable and slow. Yet, when holding up a similar lens as I did with the pacing aspect of  5 cm/s, the music’s purpose becomes clearer. It’s not meant to take you on a ride or necessarily dictate the mood like in Your Name. No, the music in 5 cm/s contributes to the oppressive mood that the film imposes on the audience. The music matches the pacing, which matches the emotions and the tone. 

The music is meant to be slow and monotonous, as that’s exactly how Takaki is feeling. It’s exactly how Takaki is perceiving his life going by. If the music was different, say more diverse like it is in Your Name, that might sway the audience into believing things are looking up for Takaki, or that things might be alright in the end. And although we’re never given a real glimmer of hope in the film, there’s still the everlasting hope that things will work out for Takaki.

Making An Orchestra

For 5 cm/s to work as a film, for it to convey the message it wants to convey, every part of it must be on the same page. The pacing must be slow and therefore the music must be slow. The music must be slow and therefore the pacing must be slow. The mood and theme must be consistent with the music and pacing. The pacing and music must contribute to the set mood and theme. Every part of 5 cm/s is crucial to what the film is attempting to convey to the audience. If even one part of the film was removed, it would lose any sense of impact. The audience would never truly be able to understand what Takaki is going through.

While 5 cm/s isn’t for everyone, and it will never be for everyone, it must resign itself to these cinematographic choices in order to have full meaning. 

Thank you for reading. Outside of these columns I also host the Power Up Podcast every week, recorded live on our Twitch channel Saturdays at 3pm PST. For more anime content, check out our anime section .

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