Spoilers Avoided: I wrote something on Twitter about how 5 Centimetres per Second is one of those movies you get something new out of each time you come back to rewatch it just a bit older and it’s true. The first time I watched it was in my teens when it just came out and I loved it. The second time I watched it, I found it too painful. Third time watching it now, I get it. My “revisit” this time around happened because I randomly downloaded it to watch on a flight yesterday and then of course I had to pen down all the thoughts on its symbolisms and why I feel it’s so good.
5 Centimetres per Second is a set of three “short stories” from different times in the same male protagonist’s life and mostly revolves around his relationships with the girls who come into his life. In fact, we rarely see other characters except the ones who are in focus at the moment. He ages over the course of the story and each of the experiences shape him as a person but ultimately even they are not the prime shapers. He is shaped at the end by the very act of growing up. Nothing much happens in the movie but it is a very realistic depiction of the lives of most young people where over the course of time priorities change, things which once meant everything fall to the side of the road only for their importance to be realised much later when it’s too late to go back to them. We set off doing one thing to get to an end goal and then sometimes get so engrossed in the means that we forget or lose out on the end.
5 Centimetres per second is the speed at which a Sakura petal falls. Speed and movement are the themes of the story. Characters are always traveling, sometimes similarly, sometimes differently. Motion is as much a character in the story as any others, geographical, emotional, intellectual. Characters keep playing catch-up with each other, ending up being subjected to things they knowingly or unknowingly subjected another person to as lives criss-cross. People mature at different paces, paths diverge, and collide again. How far an individual has traveled in their life over the same period of time versus another (distance/time=speed right?) is a reflection of who they were as an individual all along. This theme of pace and motion comes at a head in a very unexpected ending which goes back and gives you a new perspective to what you saw, a story which in the first watch you are likely to think will end very differently than how it does.
The manner of storytelling in 5 Centimetres per Second always feels very metaphorical to me since it begins as quite descriptive, taking time to build the backstory of the first two characters in detail and then begins to abandon the viewer, getting increasingly omissive till the end where the most important events and progressions which have occurred are not even told.
It feels like a parallel to the process of growing up itself, how the lives of most children start off, sheltered in homes, everything making sense, innocence being very much an attainable reality. Then life kicks in and as you grow up things begin to make less and less sense, or maybe you have less time to make sense of everything coming your way, memories begin to fade or morph, but you keep going, innocence is often a luxury, passions begin to seem pointless, relationships make you jaded and feel unreal rather than the happily-ever-after they once seemed. When you are a child you have more time to register things as they happen but as an adult time often seems to move faster. It feels like you blinked and suddenly you’re grown, having played chase with the life you think you wanted, wondering where they time went and how you ended up where you are now. It’s very much a story of growing up, very much representative of real life where there may not be very satisfactory resolutions or even closure at-all, no grand schemes or purposes may be revealed to individual lives, but we don’t exactly have a choice other than accepting it all as it is given.
Watch it if you enjoy slice of life stories of people growing and changing, learning and also being very stupid like people always are. Watch it also for the absolutely breathtaking imagery and Makoto Shinkai in general.