As people, we are both consumed and created by memories. There is always a moment we never want to let go, be it happy or sad, that we mentally replay so it will not disappear with time. Anime director Makoto Shinkai’s 2007 film, 5 Centimeters Per Second, explores the positives and negatives of clinging onto such moments.
As the film opens, the viewers are presented with the significance of the title. It refers to the rate at which a cherry blossom petal falls to the ground.
Tono Takai is a Tokyo junior high school student who keeps in touch with his old school friend, Akari Shinohara (who recently moved), through letters. They express concern that they might not be able to recognize one another if they meet again. When Tono learns that he will be moving far from Tokyo, he decides to physically meet with Akari.
Tono embarks on a journey during a snowy winter night amidst multiple train delays. The pacing in this section works very well because it plays to our anxiety, leaving us to wonder if Tono and Akari’s meeting will actually occur.
The remaining two sections of the film follow Tono through his high school life and early career. Though many potentially life-changing moments are presented, he often overlooks them, lost in his own thoughts. Through Tono’s path to adulthood, 5 Centimeters Per Second demonstrates the dangers of placing too much weight on a single moment in life.
In addition to its themes, the film’s animation is also striking . Each frame effectively creates a work of art, emphasizing lush sunlight, cold snow, or busy streets. 5 Centimeters Per Second was made entirely on a computer, showcasing the beautiful visuals the medium is capable of. Tenmon, the movie’s composer, elevates an already stunning film to something greater with his emotionally-charged piano pieces.
With his film, Shinkai asks an essential life question: do moments from the past or moments from the present define your future?