Ohhhh I’m gonna catch a beating for this one. I’ve given bad reviews to popular movies before but, holy moly, 5cmPS is a full on critical darling. It was released in 2007and received rapturous responses, with the film press instantly hailing director Makoto Shinkai as “the next Miyazaki”, an accolade I’m sure that had nothing to do with the fact that Hiyao Miyazaki was the only animé director any of those mouth breathers knew by name harrumph harrumph harrumph harrumph harrumph!
I’d never heard of the movie before I was requested to review it but I went in expecting to love it. I mean, there is a halo around this thing and all the screenshots I could see looked absolutely smurges. I mean, look at this.
I’m sorry guys, I don’t know what to tell you. I had one of those “what is wrong with me?” experiences watching this one, feeling that there was maybe something wrong with me that I just couldn’t appreciate the masterpiece everyone else seems to see when they watch it. I mean, I used to feel that way about a lot of Studio Ghibli, honestly. It took me a while to warm to them. But the more I think about it, the more convinced I am that 5cmPS is more or less devoid of real substance and is coasting by on its outer attractiveness like a common Kardashian. This movie is like a wedding cake consisting entirely of icing. It’s beautiful, but it’s nutritionally empty and far too sweet and leaves you with toothache.
Alright, so right off the bat I have to confess something. I’m writing this between coming back from one holiday, leaving for a weekend break, and getting ready for the Unscrupulous Mouse’s wedding in September.
Bottom line, I don’t really have time to do the full plot beat by plot beat review of the movie. Which is good, because this movie doesn’t really have a plot. It’s split up into three short sequences, the actual events of each could be summed up in a few sentences.
Episode 1: Cherry Blossom
Schoolgirl Akari Shinohara writes letters to her former classmate Takaki Tōno after moving to a new city. They were close in school because they both had allergies and had to stay in doors and were both into stuff like knowing how fast a cherry blossom falls (it’s 5 centimetres a second).
With his parents moving to the other side of the country, Takaki decides to embark on the long train journey to see Akari before it’s too late. But the train is delayed by a snowstorm and arrives many hours late. Takaki discovers that Akari has waited for him at the train station the whole time and they share a kiss, before going their seperate ways the next day knowing that they most likely will never see each other again.
Episode 2: Cosmonaut
Kanae, a girl in Takaki’s new school, tries to get up the courage to tell him she likes him but when she sees that Takaki is constantly writing emails to someone she loses her nerve because she assumes he must be in love with someone else. As it happens, Takaki has been writing these emails to Akari, but hasn’t sent any of them.
Episode 3: 5 Centimeters per Second
Now all grown up, Akari is engaged to be married to someone else while Takaki is slipping deeper and deeper into depression. Randomly, he crosses paths with Akari in the street but just as they turn to look at each other a train passes, cutting off their view. When the train has gone, so is Akari, but Takaki smiles, having apparently gotten over her. I guess. Cherry blossoms.
Okay, so it’s clear that this movie is not going to win people over with a taut, gripping narrative. And that’s fine, because it’s so stunningly animated, right? Well, about that. It’s not stunningly animated. It’s well animated. It’s technically accomplished, high-end animé animation. Perfectly accomplished, nothing ground-breaking. It’s not the animation that’s beautiful, it’s the art and also the sound design and music.
And yes, in these two areas, the movie is an absolute triumph. It sounds amazing, and its static images are absolutely heart-breakingly beautiful. I’m serious about that sound, by the way. There’s a scene where Kanae is surfing and the way the movie captures the sound of crashing waves and rolling water, you can practically taste the salt on your lips. Just amazing. And if you are game for a movie where you just want to luxuriate in its sights and sounds well then take this as my enthusiastic recommendation. But those are only two elements of any film. There’s also, you know, the script. And the characters. And the dialogue. All things that I happen to value rather highly, dangerous eccentric that I am. In fact, let’s take a look at those characters.
I mean, they’re certainly not bad, but they’re pretty generic. Those two could have walked out of literally any mange or animé from the last thirty years. Shinkai is an absolute master of places but he doesn’t really have a flair for people and that’s a big problem when you’re trying to tell a love story. And speaking of the story he’s made a mistake that a great many people make when trying to write a romance; assuming that just because two characters are in love, that makes them interesting.
If you’ve seen the film, do me a favour. Tell me something about Takaki or Akari. Tell me a fact about them other that Takaki loves Akari or Akari loves Takaki. A like or dislike. A favourite food. A frickin’ favourite colour. The movie gives them nothing. They are the most generic main couple you could imagine. They’re never funny, or angry or display any thoughts or feelings independent from each other. I have no idea who they are as people and have less than no interest in who they are as a couple. A romantic movie can only work if the audience falls in love with the main couple (or at least one of them). Not helping matters is the weak script. For starters, almost the entirety of the dialogue is in voiceover.
Nah, look. I don’t have any beef with voiceover. Voiceover is like any other tool in the writer’s toolbox. Used effectively, it can be fantastic. But it’s like a fire extinguisher in a kitchen. By all means, use it when it’s needed. But if you’re using it all the time there’s probably something wrong with how you’re cooking.
Then there’s the dialogue. Now, I’m aware that this is being translated from Japanese and that it may come across very different in its native language and anyway, this might not even be a faithful translation. All duly noted and accepted. Counterpoint: at one point in this movie Kanae says of the boy she loves “If I was a dog, he’d know how I happy I was because my tale would be wagging.”
Now that, as a line, is a nugget of chewy awfulness wrapped in a crispy shell of utter blech. Like I said, maybe it’s a little more graceful in the original Japanese but even apart from the mechanical clunkiness it’s a horrible, horrible sentiment. I mean, it’s a romance and some regressive gender politics more or less come baked into the genre but c’mon, this is just gross. Both main female characters are just so obsessed with giving themselves over completely and utterly to this dude and the worst part is, the movie never shows us why. Because Takaki has no other character trait other than being obsessed with giving himself over completely and utterly to Akari. It’s like the whole love story is running on circular logic, he loves her because she loves him because he loves because she loves him. And don’t let anyone tell you that that’s what love is supposed to be like. Anyone who tells you that has either never been in love or is trying to control you. Love doesn’t mean you surrender yourself totally to another person and become a pale shadow of who you once were. It makes you the best, truest version of yourself.
I learnt that from my parents.
I learned it from my wife and my daughter.
And I learned it from my brother and from my soon-to-be sister in law, who are two of the most wonderful people I know.
Yes, yes, it’s very pretty. But the next Miyazaki? Uh, the next Goro Miyazaki maybe!
Two of the drippiest drips who ever drapped.
I ever there was a movie in need of some dramatic conflict…
Supporting Characters: 02/20
If I was a dog, you could tell how I felt about this movie. Because I’d be piss on it.
Rassin’ frassin’ stupid objective rating system forcing me to give credit where credit’s due.
FINAL SCORE: 51%
NEXT UPDATE: 30 August 2018
NEXT TIME: What? No. It can’t be Disney Sequel month again. I had more time. I HAD MORE TIME!