5 Centimeters Per Second and the Pain of Holding On to the Past [Spoilers]

Love doesn’t win; reality does

Holding on to someone you truly love, even when you know that you can never be together with them, is one of the most painful things in the world. Whether it is because of physical distance, growing apart with time or even both, holding on to the past can sometimes cloud your vision of everything happening to you in the present. That is the crux that makes up 5 Centimeters Per Seconda tragic, yet realistic story about loving someone you cannot be with and the pain of holding on to the memory of them. This is something that I’ve been personally dealing with for a while now, so I thought it would be appropriate to write about this film in relation to my own experiences on this.

The film tells the story of childhood friends Tono Takaki and Shinohara Akari and it is told in 3 parts. In part 1, Akari reveals to Takaki that she is moving away to Tochigi due to her parents’ jobs, meaning that they will be physically distant from one another. The two remain in contact with one another by writing letters from time to time. When Takaki learns that he is moving with his family to Kagoshima, he makes the long journey to Tochigi to see Akari one last time. In part 2, a few years after part 1, the story shifts its focus to a girl named Sumida Kanae. Kanae is in love with Takaki, but she is too afraid to confess her feelings to him. Takaki, however, seems oblivious to her feelings and is mostly seen writing emails on his phone from time to time, illustrating that he is still not over the memory of Akari. Part 3 is set during the present day. Takaki has become a computer programmer and is still seen feeling depressed over Akari while Akari, however, seems to have moved on from Takaki as she is seen wearing an engagement ring.

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The name, 5 Centimeters Per Second, acts as a dual meaning. Not only does it relate to what Akari says about cherry blossoms falling 5 centimeters per second from the tree (which later becomes a motif that illustrates Takaki and Akari’s connection to one another), it also illustrates how Takaki and Akari grow further apart with time. Like with most of Shinkai’s films, 5 Centimeters Per Second deals extensively with themes such as love, distance and time and how these themes are seemingly interlinked with one another. According to CriticalOtaku,

Shinkai comments on the naivety of idealized romance, the notion that a couple will surmount whatever obstacles they encounter, and blends the lines of dream and reality in order to create a painfully conflicted and somber reflection.

This naivety is illustrated explicitly in Part 1, when Takaki takes a long train ride to Tochigi to meet Akari. Throughout his trip he is constantly met with delays from the snow storm happening at the same time. One can assume that this is the first obstacle life throws at him in order to test his love for Akari, but at the same time it also serves as a foreshadowing of their doomed relationship when they grow older and further apart. When he arrives at the train station more that 4 hours later than when he was supposed to meet Akari, he finds her sleeping on a seat still waiting for him. The scene then plays out like a typical romance anime as they are seen laughing and enjoying one another’s company, kissing under a cherry blossom tree in the snow and cuddling together inside an old shack. However, in a voiceover sequence, Takaki acknowledges that his kiss with Akari will ultimately be his last one with her as he realises, at that moment, that they can never be together. Despite realising this, he still hopes and holds on to the ideal of them reuniting again, which ultimately causes him to become depressed.

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What I thought was an interesting dynamic was how the women close to Takaki got hurt by his indifferent feelings towards them. Because his heart is set on Akari, he ignores the feelings of Kanae and his girlfriend in Part 3, two women who genuinely care and love him (Kanae realises that Takaki will never love her back so she doesn’t confess her feelings to him at the end of Part 2). For Takaki, even though they are wonderful people they cannot replace the person Akari was to him. This relates back to the point I made at the beginning about the past blinding you from everything happening in the present. Akari, in Part 3, however, seems to have realised this earlier than Takaki did as she is happily engaged to a new man in her life.

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In relation to my own experiences with this, I would say that I relate to Takaki the most as I, too, am struggling to let go of someone who meant the world to me and the pain of knowing that you will never be with them. Ultimately, it’s a sad and reflective film that questions your perception of love, while also making you learn to appreciate the time you had with those who once meant the world to you. In this regard, 5 Centimeters Per Second is a film that I would encourage everyone to watch (even if they are not a fan of anime) due to its universal message.

To sign off, I encourage you to take the time to tell those close to you how much you love and appreciate them and how much they mean to you because you never know when you’ll never see them again. 

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