Friday, June 16, 2017

5 Centimeters Per Second

"Everywhere I go, I look for you."

Much has been said about director Makoto Shinkai. He's often been heralded as "the next Miyazaki" (Variety Magazine). It says so right on the sleeve for his film 5 Centimeters Per Second (2007).

Are the comparisons really accurate or even fair to Shinkai?

Shinkai's recent film, Your Name (2016), was one of the biggest animated pictures to ever see release in Japan.

To be accurate, Your Name was the 4th highest grossing film in Japan of all time. It was the 7th highest grossing animated film of all time in Japan. Bigger yet, it was the highest grossing anime film worldwide ever. Those are no small feats.

It's clear Shinkai has been on the directorial march for a fair bit to earn that achievement too.

Despite the acclaim and the criticisms of Your Name, Shinkai continues to direct and create films that are personal to him.

His films speak directly to his style and his voice and they couldn't be more unique and special and, in contrast, to master director Hayao Miyazaki. Put simply, both animating directors are exceptional but both are very different, approach the medium differently and have equally different visions and narrating styles. Sure the comparisons by critics make for a nice little Japanese rivalry and perhaps a fiery little narrative to put eyeballs to the written word, but this writer finds the body of work by Miyazaki and Shinkai to be intensely personal and magical to both. Miyazaki has a firm grasp on telling a story narratively, like Disney, whereby Shinkai has been a visual storyteller more in tune with a kind of stream of consciousness and more obtuse writing in keeping with Japanese anime. In some ways Shinkai falls somewhere in between in his approach. Those with an appreciation for animation as an art form won't go wrong with either of their works. Just don't expect critics to cut Shinkai any slack or treat his name with the same kind of healthy respect.

Both directors share a delicate eye for detail and a love of animation, but after that the two part company and stand by their respective, unique works and styles.

Shinkai relishes the relationship in his pictures and captivates us with his world view on interpersonal and electronic communication be it intimate, or lost, or words simply unspoken. Here we see the separation and growth of love between two young people across time. As the subtitle to this film suggests, a chain of short stories about their distance (Cherry Blossom, Cosmonaut, 5 Centimeters Per Second).

Friendships and loves are often separated by the miles, but that distance in fact consolidates love in Shinkai's eyes. Absence makes the heart grow fonder as they say.

Shinkai told a similar story thematically early in his career (here). The stellar Voices Of A Distant Star (2002) told a simple, shorter story in a similar vein and it still captivates today. In fact, in many respects 5 Centimeters Per Second feels very much like it lives in that world like a prequel or a companion piece to Voices Of A Distant Star.

The Place Promised In Our Early Days (2004) followed suit with its own science fiction themes. Again, the atmosphere, the tone, the mood of the film was in keeping with the unique voice of Shinkai.

Children Who Chase Lost Voices (2011) may be Shinkai at his most playfully Miyazaki-esque. But it still retains the director's personal touch.

The relatively short The Garden Of Words (2013) and 5 Centimeters Per Second combined with his previous work, all offer a fairly balanced picture of what Shinkai is about as a voice in anime, and as an animator. It's a particularly impressive body of work which continues to see him evolve narratively while implementing evocative and gorgeous animation that is uniquely Shinkai.

Persistent Miyazaki comparisons abound are simply not accurate, fair to Shinkai or to Miyazaki. If such claims are intended to bolster or give Shinkai props on his level of quality fine, but to tear him down on anything that separates him from Miyazaki inaccurately dissects the upstart Japanese director and his own work. Shinkai stepped out from the shadows a long time ago. Perhaps if the late Satoshi Kon (Millennium Actress, Paprika) were alive comparisons might be made there.

Viewing the 63 minute feature film spotlighted here brought this writer to one general conclusion without delving into the themes of love and loss that one should experience by seeing his films. And that is Shinkai is an artist with a painterly hand.

Shinkai lovingly holds on static shots or, as the are called in anime, pillow shots. These gorgeous stills fill each and every frame and Shinkai does not distract with a lot of quick and unnecessary editing allowing viewers to see his world as he sees it through his eyes. The level of detail since he created Voices Of A Distant Star has also enhanced the experience even more.

5 Centimeters Per Second spoke to me. Damn all the criticism, because if this man sees the world the way he presents it in his films then his voice is needed now more than ever.

There is a beauty and a striking sense of love about these films that will endure and will draw viewers in with an open heart to the beauty in this world. We live in a dichotomous world of violence and peace, hate and love and ugliness and beauty and Shinkai always chooses to explore the latter.

Themes of love and loss, hellos and goodbyes, friendships and loves are enveloped within an animated painting. Shinkai's words are often poetic and simple allowing for the image of his expression to be moving poetry on its very own.

My recent visit to a local shopping center witnessed the push and pull of customers, unkind glances, impatient shoppers, short tempers, trash or wrappers knocking about street curbs. When I returned home Shinkai invited me into his world and for a little while the world was a much better place than I've seen lately.

Heck Shinkai could illustrate beautiful trash, it's true, but there are a few too many people out there in a hurry that would be wise to stop, take a breath and breathe in the world of Shinkai. They should at least stop for the amount of time a cherry blossom leaf takes to fall to the ground, roughly 5 centimeters per second, to take a look around them.

Shinkai is indeed a welcomed voice in anime and in cinema with his eye on lost love along with his visual approach to storytelling.

This one may remain one of his most strikingly beautiful paintings... rather, moving pictures. A Shinkai trademark is to provide an authentic sense of place, Japan and location. The director's loving detail provided to every shot and image and backdrop of the great island nation combined with its special sights and sounds is a love letter to Japan herself. People who have been there will see sights and sounds come alive on screen not through a camera but through the imagination of animation.

5 Centimeters Per Second is cinema for the dreamer. And Shinkai is a dreamer who imagines reaching into the stars. He sees beauty there as much as he sees it in this world. One look at his films and one thing is certain, you'll want to live in it with him.

Writer: Makoto Shinkai.

Director: Makoto Shinkai.

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