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!
May Zod have mercy on your soul. (I really have no idea what this is, I just know the same guy did Your Name and that that apparently made 3 grown men break down during a 14 hour flight to Japan, which is delightful).
It’s sounds like you’ve run headlong into “mono no aware” territory with this one, Mouse. You should look the term up if you haven’t encountered it before, but it kinda-sorta translates as “awareness of the impermanence of things.” It’s a big deal in Japanese artistic tradition, and I find that as a Westerner, while I can appreciate it at times, it can also really bug me if I’m not in the mood.
That, or it’s just a poor movie. I don’t know; I’ve never seen it. 😋
In English: “This too shall pass”?
To a degree, that’s correct? Let’s not get hung up on nuance. 😉
I was actually thinking of watching this before the review went up, but life happened. Sounds like I didn’t miss much. I love anime (named after one after all), but I’ve never been a fan of the stuff that just gets by on being pretty and sweet. Pretty and sweet with some substance behind it, sure.
You’re going to watch more Disney sequels? I know he’s your brother and all, but I’ve got some thumbscrews you can borrow if you’d rather do one of the less painful things on the registry.
Nah. I gotta do what I gotta do.
Ok so confession time. Like you Mouse I tried watching this in 2008 because I was getting back into anime at the time and heard such good things about it. I literally fell asleep during the train ride scene, and never cared to go back and watch the entire thing because like you said absolutely no substance and there are better anime movies and anime out there that handle a slice of life, emotional love story well. So 100% agree with you on this review: No substance, but pretty graphics.
Never gotten around to watching this one, but I probably should just on the basis Your Name is absolutely spectacular.
Though then again the only one of his pre-Your Name movies I’ve seen was The Place Promised in Our Early Days and I really didn’t like it.
I’ve seen a good chunk of his filmography and I can say that The Place Promised in Our Early Days is by far my least favorite. Make of that what you will. At the very least 5 Centimeters per Second is shorter.
I don’t blame you. The Place Promised in Our Early Days is really bad. Your Name is where it’s at.
I happen to love this movie for 3 reasons:
1) The art.
2) It allowed me to feel the same feeling of heartbreak I felt as I grew apart from my best friend, who meant more to me than anything else in the world, in highschool and was powerless to do anything about it, in the safe world of fiction.
3) I like trains.
All good reasons.
While I haven’t seen this film (I have heard that his most recent work, Your Name/Kimi No Na Wa, is fantastic), I get you on the “Is there something wrong with me?” feeling.
I didn’t like Cowboy Bebop.
Yeah, CP is fine but I don’t get the adoration.
Yeah, I don’t at all like Cowboy Bebop either. I like the music, that’s basically it.
Felt exactly the same way when I watched it. It’s almost worth it just for the pretty art but meh. If I want that I can look up some stills on the net.
Very much on the same page as you here Mouse. Makoto Shinkai is an unbelievably talented animator but he’s been uneven as a director. This one and The Place Promised in Our Early Days are both OK but not really anything that special. But then Children Who Chase Lost Voices and Garden of Words are both great (I especially love CWCLV though I know some don’t like it much) and Your Name is an absolute masterpiece. I guess it really just took him some time to learn what it meant to actually be a director and not just an animator. For my money, I’ll take Mamoru Hosoda (Wolf Children, Summer Wars, The Girl Who Leapt Through Time) as the current king of film animation (non-Miyazaki division) in Japan, his animation isn’t as obviously beautiful (thought it is still undeniably gorgeous) but he really really understands storytelling. And if he had not tragically passed away so young, Satoshi Kon (Millennium Actress, Perfect Blue, Tokyo Godfathers, Paprika) would probably hold the crown.
Agree with you on Satoshi Kon. Millennium Actress is one of my favourite movies.
Same, it’s top ten all time for me. It’s just an utterly beautiful film.
I can’t speak for this movie, as I’ve never seen it, but I will say the OTHER movie this guy made, Your Name, improves where this movie fails. The character designs may still be a little generic, but there are at least a couple of things to make them distinctive, and more importantly the leads, Mitsuha and Taki, actually have personality traits and characters outside of each other. And it has a plot! Boy howdy does it have a plot. It has one of those plots that unfolds slowly, so you start out not quite sure what’s going on, but by the climax you are on the edge of your seat. The end is a little… how do I put it? Anime-romance-y? But it’s not bad. In any case, Mikoto Shinaki CAN make a good movie. I think he certainly learned from his mistakes in this one, or at least someone on his creative team did.
The lead drips drapped?
They drapped all over the place.
I won’t comment on this movie since I haven’t watched it yet, but… you’re at least watching the Aladdin sequels, are you? Or Cinderella 3? Have mercy on your soul and don’t subject yourself to Mulan 2, Tarzan 2 or Brother Bear 2. Hunchback of Notre Dame was originally my idea, I’ll confess, but I don’t want you to suffer any more.
Heck, if you’re aiming for non-canon Disney animated movies, at least go for A Goofy Movie. That one’s harmless enough, and I don’t think you’ve ever spoken too much on Goofy, to the degree you have with Donald and Mickey. It’s funny how out of all three he’s the one who’s usually saddled with the most ‘normal’ and ‘adult’ lifestyle.
Sorry, I meant Hunchback of Notre Dame 2, of course.
Never saw the movie, so I guess I’ll have to see it for myself.
Any hints on which Disney sequels you’re reviewing next? God help you if you’re doing either of the Beauty and the Beast midquels.
Mouse, please allow me to send my congratulations to your family on a forthcoming Happy Event (that sort of thing is always a pleasure – especially if you’re not the one who has to arrange anything – and is precious as pearls in the downright glum period of History we would appear to be living through*) and my Best Wishes to your own sept of the Fine Luach (one trusts Mrs & Miss Mouse are well?).
*You just KNOW that some smart-alec Historian circa AD 2345 will look back on the 21st Century from atop the lofty pedestal of hindsight and pronounce us “The Age of Dupes” with the innocent calm of a truly self-satisfied jackass.
Also, it should be noted that “Critical Darlings” are like any other species of Precious Darling – precious only to those that love them best and fair game for constructive criticism (also, why should one be afraid to swim against the Critical Tide? Coat your vessel with a strong enough antacid and feel free to take a different tack! With any luck you’ll give the wordy, windy JUDGEMENTAL blighters a conniption on being told that, no, the Critic has tastes as rarified as the man who refuses to eat anything but Christmas Dinner ALL YEAR).
Also, please accept my condolences on being obliged to endure yet another round of Disney Sequels – but remember, if you can survive THAT then no lesser horror shall touch thee!
I hope you review the Little Mermaid 2, because I know you love the original movie almost as much as I do and thus it will make you furious, and also because I actually liked it when I was a kid, so I need you to destroy my nostalgia goggles.
I shall get my goggle smashing mallet.
I apologize for not reading/commenting properly on your review before dumping this unrelated think piece in your lap, but it *might* have some relevance, in any case you chose to subject yourself to Mulan 2.
An AV Club editor revisited Mulan as part of their “1998 Week,” and had some…disparaging things to say that I was curious what thoughts you might have, if any: https://www.avclub.com/mulan-s-gender-politics-haven-t-aged-so-gracefully-1828367475
Wow. Even for late period AV club that’s pretty terrible. The comments did an excellent job disembowelling it.
The hottest of hot takes.
I was about to say, I linked the article after reading it, but didn’t venture down into the comments until I linked it to you yesterday. I applaud one commenter who went so far as to provide still images from the movie itself to show just how way off the editor was on her description of “Girl Worth Fighting For.”
Evidence will save us all.
hope for the sequel when they spend the rest of there lives together. ideal!