“It was almost as if…as if a scene from a dream…Nothing more, nothing less than a beautiful view,” utter Taki and Mitsuha from Your Name (2016), describing their bittersweet experience of love and companionship as their memories are soon obliterated by reality, only leaving behind footprints that are untraceable, yet permanent. It is this delicate nature of dreams, love, heartbreak and the process of growing up that Makoto Shinkai captures in his films, and it’s what makes him one of the best filmmakers of our time.
Through his features and shorts, Shinkai captures reality’s little details, from the raindrops and cherry blossoms that depict the changing seasons to mundane daily activities like cutting vegetables, getting on trains and running. These details show up in stories of ordinary people in extraordinary situations, that of first love, friendship or even a connection.
Makoto Shinkai is unanimously associated with his biggest hit Your Name (2016) and his recent Weathering With You (2019), while others reference The Garden of Words (2013). Only a few mention his 2007 film 5 Centimeters Per Second. It is not that it’s a bad film, or that one doesn’t find the usual Shinkai themes and styles in it, or that it has a bad story or ending. However, the story’s beauty and fragility simultaneously resonate and repulse. The movie captures the duality of human nature, memory, feelings and relationships. Its lack of closure makes it a polarizing experience, and yet, one can appreciate how it makes the story more humane and the characters’ dilemmas more real.
The movie is broken into fragments like episodes from an older time or from one’s memory. It tells the story of Takaki Tōno and Akari Shinohara, who grow from childhood friends into adults. The fragmented nature of the story amplifies the feelings of the characters as they grow up and grow apart. Each of the film’s three episodes act like broken pieces trying to be whole again. One is nostalgic and eager, another is distant yet hopeful, and the third, melancholic.
As the movie progresses, the methods of communication evolve from letters to emails and texts. The technology evolves, connection becomes easier but the emotional distance still increases. Shinkai uses images, rather than verbal communication, to inform the audience about Takaki, Akari, and Kanae Sumida’s emotions and mental state. He creates visual poetry through his animation of the seasons and the environment and the spoken words only add more layers to the story. In a single frame, he captures the joy of connection, friendship, companionship, the agony of heartbreak, the fortitude required to wait, the bittersweet nature of love and growing up and finding oneself again.
It would be a disservice to only compliment Shinkai’s films by saying that they are visually stunning or gorgeously animated, even though that’s the first thing that strikes you. 5 Centimeters Per Second, particularly, has more to it than appears at first viewing.
Shinkai’s movies capture the delicate and enduring nature of first love, its bittersweet aftertaste and its enduring power. They capture the coming-of-age of both, teenagers and adults, and their feelings, which are strong and can’t be disregarded. 5 Centimeters Per Second may not be one of his best-known films, but it’s one of his best-made films, and as the movie reaches its climax and Masayoshi Yamazaki ’s ‘One More Time, One More Chance’ plays, you find yourself engulfed by grief, happiness, regret, hopefulness and maybe even more.
Disclaimer: This article has not been written by Film Companion’s editorial team.