Tonight, I went to a theatrical screening of Makoto Shinkai's magnificent "5 Centimeters Per Second" at Viz Cinema in San Francisco. It had been a couple of years since I watched it, and I was curious to see if my reaction would have changed. Though I've watched it multiple times on DVD, I couldn't possibly pass up the chance to see it on a big (well, medium) screen.
I could wax poetic for hours about how much I love this film, but it occurs to me that it could easily be my answer to a couple of questions you might ask me:
"Why do you want to move to Japan so much?"
"What do you think true love is?"
And any film that can serve as the answer to those questions is pretty special in my book.
In summation, this is a series of three short films about two young people, Takaki and Akari - "A chain of short stories about their distance". Though all are beautiful and powerful, the first is a masterpiece. In fact, I would argue that it's the most perfect 26 minutes of narrative animation ever created. Shinkai's work as a visual artist is well-known, but what sets this short apart is the incredibly powerful emotion attached to the story. Given a real budget for the first time it isn't surprising that Shinkai created the most visually gorgeous anime ever - the entire film meets that definition. But in the first short it seems, for the first time, that Shinkai has written a story honest and powerful enough to be the equal of his visual mastery.
I've described Shinkai's art style as "more real than real", and I still believe that. While his backgrounds and characters are realistic, they aren't photo-realistic - unbound by reality, Shinkai captures the innate beauty in people and places that we all see in our mind's eye, but can't quite capture. It's like a mist that you can't reach out and hold in your fingers, but he can - his work is the true magic of what animation can be. The beauty of this film and the events represented visually surpasses any other film I've seen, animated or live-action.
I might also cite this anime as the answer to another question - "What film is a perfect harmony of music, story and image?" Both the gorgeous piano backgrounds by Tenmon and the song "One More Time, One More Chance" by Masayoshi Yamazaki are perfect for the material. The power of Yamazaki's lyrics carries the poignant final scenes to a powerful emotional crescendo - understated, vague, yet incredibly moving.
As for those first two questions, well - you'll just have to watch the film to understand. I'll just say this - 5 Centimeter Per Second captures the beauty of everyday Japan and the romantic majesty of pure, innocent love better than any film I've ever seen. If you're not so lucky as to be able to see it in a theater, at the very least rent the Blue-ray - and watch it subtitled, with the wonderful dialogue spoken in the original Japanese by an extremely talented cast.