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5 Centimeters Per Second is Makoto Shinkai's third film, and was released in 2007. However, unlike his other works, the events here reflect the relentless nature of reality. The end result is a highly polished, but also very depressing, heart-breaking and beautiful romance movie.
The movie's focus is about two people named Takaki and Akari, following them as they mature. It is divided into three episodes that together, comprise 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 perspective. The final part, which is also called "5 Centimeters Per Second", shows them as young adults, in 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.
The movie contains 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 was too rigid to move toward anyone — until the end, at which point he becomes capable of actually taking control of his own life and taking 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 breathes insight into Kanae's life following the events of the movie and parallels Takaki's experiences during his adulthood; 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 Tohno. Contrasting Takaki's implied meeting with Akari, Kanae decides to pursue him when she appears to have found him again.
- Airplane of Love: To emphasize how distant Takaki is to Kanae, the launch of a rocket replaces the airplane.
- 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.
- Anthropomorphic Personification: Symbolic only in the minds of the characters. These aspects are present within the title and other subtle details such as the rocket launch and the train.
- Bishonen: Takaki
- Bittersweet Ending: While Takaki quit his job and broke up with his girlfriend, he ultimately takes control of his life and starts to deal with the lonely and bitter feelings that he's been nursing for fifteen years, as suggested by his smile at the end of the movie. In the novelisation of the film (which is also written by Makoto Shinkai), Takaki has found a job as a freelance coder.
- Book Ends: The film begins and ends with Takaki and Akari at the train stop with Cherry Blossoms falling.
- 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.
- Takaki uses a wireless LogiCool mouse at his workplace.
- Cherry Blossoms: First mentioned by Akari, the rate at which Cherry Blossoms fall under normal circumstances acts as a metaphor for falling in love.
- Cannot Spit It Out: Kanae struggles to tell Takaki that she's deeply in love with him.
- Dreaming of Things to Come: Takaki has a recurring dream of himself and Akari climbing a hill in a surrealistic sunrise. Aside of being a Mythology Gag for Place Promised, this could be the future, their afterlife, or an Alternate Universe.
- Don't You Dare Pity Me!: When Kanae starts to tear up at her inability to tell Takaki her feelings, she has an internal version of this.
- Mr. Fanservice: Older Takaki.
- Expy: Takaki incorporates elements derived from the male leads in Shinkai's previous works, and shares some similarities to Jay Gatsby
- Gratuitous English: As with 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.
- 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.
- 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 train stop, 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 Multiple Endings 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.
- Just Friends: Takaki becomes this to Akari (possibly) when she doesn't turn back, and Kanae to Takaki when she doesn't reveal her feelings for him.
- Multiple Endings: The last few minutes of the movie present a number of images that can represent several different aspects of an ending. The 'true' (i.e. final) one appears to be a Tear Jerker Esoteric Happy Ending, but it also presents a Downer Ending, a Happily Ever After, and a few shots of symbolic birds.
- Official Couple: Takaki and Akari.
- Red Oni, Blue Oni: Akari is blue, Kanae is red.
- 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.
- Shout-Out: Several instances exist.
- 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.
- A tall tower is present in Takaki's recurring dreams, reminiscent of the Union's tower in Shinkai's previous work, The Place Promised in Our Early Days.
- Snow Means Love: Tohno and Akari kiss under the sakura tree for the first time. While it signifies love, it also signifies the coldness Tohno feels when faced with the prospect of being separated from her.
- Star-Crossed Lovers: Tohno and Akari have more hope for a happy ending than typical cases, but they qualify nonetheless. This is more apparent in Kanae's situation: her tearful confession is cut off by a rocket launch.
- Technology Marches On: The first act occurs in the early 1990s, and as such, cell phones and email are still relatively rare. As the story moves through the second and third act, these technologies become more commonplace.
- Theme and Variations Soundtrack: Some of the piano arrangements share motifs with "One More Time, One More Chance".
- 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, they leave behind their innocence and unspoken emotions.
- True Love's Kiss: Despite Tohno and Akari sharing a kiss early on, life for Tohno remains somewhat of a challenge from there until the ending of the final act.
- 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: This is perhaps one of the most moving instances, as Akari and Tohno become separated after their last meeting together.