Monday, July 27, 2015

[Anime] 5 Centimeters a Second Review

5 Centimeters a Second - 9.5/10

The first Shinkai film I watched was The Place Promised in Our Early Days.  I was immediately struck by its overawing beauty.  The evocative blending of grand vistas and subtle details stayed with me as some of the most objectively artistic work I had ever seen in anime.  In my review I mentioned that if a movie could replicate that atmosphere while jettisoning the stranger sci-fi elements it would be truly great.  5cm is just that, and it is a masterpiece.  A celebration of both the intensity and impermanence of life, it is the visual medium at its finest.

The Good:
The heart-wrenching beauty of the entire movie.  It is visually stunning, and not simply in a high-production way.  There is something essentially Zen-like about its animation.  This is a case where poetry, rather than prose, will serve to better illustrate.  Below are two poems; the first is by Dogen, a Japanese Zen master, the second by William Carlos Williams, a modernist poet from the early-mid 20th century.

1. "This slowly drifting cloud is pitiful;
What dreamwalkers men become.
Awakened, I hear the one true thing-
Black rain on the roof of Fukakusa Temple."

2. "so much depends
a red wheel
glazed with rain
beside the white

What these have in common is a sort of minimalist ultra-realism. It's an appreciation of the mundane as transcendent and mysterious. It's difficult, if not impossible, to describe with words but 5cm does it masterfully with its art. Not just the things you would think of as beautiful either. Its clouds and sun and snow are majestic, but in a small way so are its construction signs, cigarette smoke, and pools in the asphalt.

Other than its art, its characters were also strong and real. Its portrayal of loneliness and alienation in particular really hit home as Takaki finds himself writing messages to nobody. The imagery with the rockets in deep space fit perfectly with what it was going for.

I also took particular gratification from how the final movie resolved.  As it drew to a close, I anticipated that the original couple would get back together and live happily.  I was even hoping for it, since they were so enamored earlier.  Instead, the resolution is more nuanced and profound.  All things are transient, and the world spins on regardless of our desires.  Having things go to plan is not a prerequisite for happiness, and life exists on the other side of sorrow.  And so 5cm ends: seeing that she is no longer there, Takaki turns, smiles wistfully, and continues to walk on.

The Bad:
The final song is utterly atrocious, and is the single worst part of the entire movie.  It is nothing more than a generic love song whose melody and tone are completely incongruous with the rest of the film.  At a moment when the audience should be experiencing a poignant mixture of longing for missed opportunities and appreciation for those that were not, we are assaulted with this saccharine caterwauling.  Furthermore, the images are thrown at us far too rapidly in an attempt to match the beat of the song, not allowing us to properly savor them.  The movie would have been essentially perfect had they used the main piano track instead, and it’s a real shame that such a poor choice was made for the final few minutes.

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