Cherry blossoms are in full bloom right now in Vancouver and it is absolutely beautiful. One of my top travel destinations is to visit Japan during spring to see the cherry blossoms. I imagine it to be a lovely wonderland of pink petals.
Every time I look at cherry blossoms, I remember my favorite animated movie: 5 Centimeters Per Second. It’s a Japanese film by Makoto Shinkai and was released in 2007. It’s been 7 years now, but I still find it to be the most beautifully executed and animated film of all time. I don’t think there is anyone who can dispute against the amazing artwork and metaphorical detail after watching the film. The movie begins in the 1990’s about a boy named Takaki Toono, who befriends a new transfer student, Akari Shinohara. The two children fall into a sweet first love until Akari is forced to move far away due to her father’s work. The two meet again once more in high school before Takaki moves farther away due to his family. The film continues on to present day, mostly following Takaki as he gets in and out of several relationships in the rest of his high school, college, and work life.
The inner fan girl inside of me had a yearning desire to see scenes of reunion between Takaki and Akira as adults in a field of sunflowers where they are free to be with each other. Unfortunately, as Shinkai expressed his thoughts on giving a “realistic view of the struggles many face against, time, space, people, and love” (IMDb), the two never really cross paths again.
Yes, this is a heartbreaking movie. It is heartbreaking in a quiet and serene way. Takaki and Akira try to stay connected by writing letters, but as the years go by the two lost common topics to talk about and the distance between them grew further. Even though Takaki meets new love interests as he grows up, they are sequentially empty and unsuccessful. His heart and mind is always in far off lands, possibly back to times of his strong and honest feelings towards his childhood love. His days are fundamentally monotonous and blurry as he gives up his dreams of being a cosmonaut and settles for an ordinary office worker.
At one point in the film, Akari is revealed to be engaged and living peacefully. At the very most, she has nostalgic and happy thoughts of Takaki and how he is doing. It is made clear to the audience that Akari had moved on and what remains are mostly memories of the past while poor Takaki is left struggling to deal with suppressed feelings of regret and lingering fondness. This is the moment I tasted the bitterness of reality. While I had wanted so dearly for Takaki and Akari to be together, the truth is that life often doesn’t work out like that. Things that we, as children, wanted so passionately get entangled up in a mess of external forces that we had no authority or control over. People drift apart and beautiful things in life go by unseen or unappreciated as we slowly inch forward as our hearts are chasing the remnants of the past.
In the end, Takaki is able to let go of his first love and rekindle his interest in astronomy after quitting his job and breaking up with his girlfriend. The main point is that alas, the two do not end up together. Even though they loved each other, wanted to be together, tried to be together, it never ended up like that and their lives took vastly separate paths. The film depicts this long journey through many scenes of landscapes and city life with little dialogue or actual exciting events. As Seth Hahne writes in his review, “For all its awkwardness, for its sliver of a resolution, for its refusal to offer satisfaction—for all of that, I appreciated Shinkai for telling a story I could believe in” (Goodreads).
When I first watched 5 Centimeters Per Second several years ago, I didn’t particularly like it. I thought it was a little boring, dragging on scenes of nothingness and to be honest, there was no closure. That made me uncomfortable because I wanted a definite end to the story. I wanted a resolution. I did not get it.
Even with all this, the movie resonated with me. I still remember the story and I remember how I felt watching it. It prompted me to ask questions about my own life, the friends that drifted away from me, and my own stories that had no closure.
The title, 5 Centimeters Per Second, is explained to be the rate at which cherry blossoms fall to the ground. Some say it is a “metaphorical representation of humans, reminiscent of the slowness of life and how people often start together but slowly drift into their separate ways” (IMDb). This statement and everything this movie is about is simply beautiful and saddening.
Then right then, I clearly understood that we would never be together. Our lives not yet fully realized, the vast expanse of time. They lay before us and there was nothing we could do.
– Makoto Shinkai, 5 Centimeters Per Second