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Animation has come a long way. Most anime’s with a solid production budget can turn out great looking works. 5 Centimeters Per Second– blows all other films out of the water- and might possibly be the most gorgeously animated film in existence.
A young girl and boy become inseparable friends at a young age. In the opening scene, the two watch as cherry blossoms in bloom fall gently to earth. Akari speaks of them in amazement – informing us that they fall at a rate of five centimeters per second. The scene is lush with pink hues and sentimentality. The sun shines brightly and reflects off surfaces making the surroundings appear radiant. It all seems lovely until Akari runs across train tracks just as the safety bars are lowering. She turns around to face Takaki-kun and expresses her desire to see the petals fall alongside him next year. The train arrives cutting off their line of sight. Akari last expression is optimistic, but amidst the beauty there’s an ominous feeling. Akari and Takaki-kun discover love at a tender age. Unfortunately, they are separated by circumstance when Akari’s parents relocate to northern Japan. It is clear that director Makoto Shinkai and his animating team have taken great pains in not just crafting a beautiful film, but a wonderful story as well. Akari and Takaki-kun’s love affair is told in a series of three vignettes, each of which finds them at different stages of their lives.
Now I know what you might be thinking. That I think every anime movie looks beautiful. At this point, the word might be losing its meaning. And true, I do have a predilection for Japanese anime. I enjoy the style quite a bit, and favor it greatly to computer animated films and other popular hand drawn films such as Disney. So perhaps I am eager to label any anime film with a certain level of artistry gorgeous. But believe me, there is no hyperbole and no diminishing of the word when I call 5 Centimeters Per Second downright beautiful. If you grant me some figurative freedom, when you watch this anime, it is possible that your eyeballs will jump out of their sockets and roll off blissfully into the horizon as there is nothing left for them to accomplish.
So what makes 5 Centimeters Per Second stand out so far and above? Well, there’s no question about it that there is something different. It has a palette of colors that range from intense vivid blues and purples to gentle pastel greens and yellows. The days seem to be in a perpetual moment of sunset or sunrise. Settings range from Tokyo to the southernmost island of Kyushu. It is subtle, but at one point you will notice everything happening in the background. Cel animation is called as such because the drawings are made on celluloid sheets. Most films have backgrounds with the transparent cel placed on top. This means that movement is usually limited to the characters and objects drawn on the top cels (I have grossly simplified things). 5 Centimeters Per Second is the same technique except an extra layer has been added to give the background life. Clouds drift along, water ripples, blades of grass flow with the wind, and stars twinkle. Always. It is so natural, I did not even realize until halfway through. In so many facets, 5 Centimeters Per Second aims for realness and achieves it. Unlike fantasy animes, it becomes evidently clear that it is attempting to be a very accurate depiction of Japan. For anyone like myself who has never been – the film is both entertainment and an immersive cultural exchange. I can imagine it is similar to the way Hollywood films serve as an entryway into American culture for worldwide audiences.
Painfully accurate as well is the movie’s love story. Most people will surely find that the themes strike close to home, uncomfortably so. 5 Centimeters Per Second is a sad film, but it never feels dark or depressing. Like its animation and settings, it is a realistic, everyday type of sadness that is balanced with little quotidian joys here and there. And somehow, despite its success at recreating reality Makoto Shinkai’s anime ascends into something entirely out of the ordinary. Ethereal, beautiful, melancholic – 5 Centimeters Per Second is all this and more.