5 Centimeters per Second: An Analysis of Stagnation (Spoilers Ahead)

5 Centimeters per Second isn’t a story about moving on. Its ambiguous ending leaves little hope for even the most optimistic viewer. What this 63-minute film really shines a light on is a harsh, albeit dramatized, reality that sometimes we can be stuck in a stasis. Whether it be a missed opportunity or, in the case of protagonist Takaki, a feeling that can never go away.

Takaki has one crisis that follows him from fifth grade to his adulthood, his love for Akari. The two, who have been best friends for years, write each other constantly, always keeping the other informed about their lives. His hours long train ride to see her when they were 13-years-old fills him with hope and fear as he hopes to fulfill what he believes to be his role of being the person who is always there for her. What he feels to be his worst moment — not being able to comfort her when she needed it most when she called to tell him that she was moving away — is what he resolves to never relive. The letter he writes Akari, explaining everything he feels about her, is lost on his way to see her and after the train delays repeatedly, he hopes that she had already gone home, leaving him behind physically and emotionally. But when he arrives, hours late, she’s there waiting. They share a kiss and, in that moment, Takaki feels that everything he wanted to say. But he also knows that this won’t last. After they move what seems worlds apart, the two lose touch.

By the time Takaki reaches high school, he is a member of the school archery club and is the object of unrequited love from his classmate Kanae. On the surface, Takaki seems confident and he is kind to others, but Kanae, who can describe every minute detail about him, notes that he is sometimes seen texting someone. The viewer sees his melancholic expression every time he opens his phone and that he always ends up deleting the messages he writes. This is where Takaki’s stagnation becomes evident to the viewer. It can be inferred that these texts are meant for Akari, given what we know about Takaki. The indecisiveness that prevents him from sending a message is just like his not being able to the words to comfort Akari when the two were children. But Takaki questions himself on when it became so difficult to write a simple message. The letter he wrote all those years ago that was blown away by the snow is symbolic of his not being able to find the words to say to Akari and ultimately any woman in his life. After realizing that Takaki has been and always will be looking for something that seems beyond himself — and by proxy anything that she could ever give him — she gives up, knowing she will always love him but even if she worked up the nerve to tell him, it would not be returned. Another important piece to note about this chapter in the story is the place where they live. Tanegashima, where the Tanegashima Space Station is located. At one point near the end, a rocket is fired into space. Space travel can be considered the product of humans aiming for the stars that they couldn’t reach on their own. In that same sense, Kanae and Takaki are both in the same boat, except they have no rocket to help them. So, the stars they want to reach, Kanae’s being Takaki and Takaki being Akari, will forever be unattainable.

By the final chapter, Takaki is an adult. He has a girlfriend and works as a programmer in Tokyo. His desire to be with Akari has effectively stagnated him. His girlfriend breaks up with him due to his emotional distance and he quits his job. At the same time, Akari is engaged and while visiting her parents, finds a letter she wrote to Takaki as a girl that she wanted to give to him on the night of their kiss. In a scene mirroring one at the beginning of the film, Takaki and Akari pass each other on a set of train tracks. Once he realizes who she is, he stops and tries to look back. A train passes and when he can finally see the other side of the tracks, she is gone. This causes Takaki to smile and walk off. Takaki’s toxic behaviors demonstrate the dangers of not being able to move on. But at the same time, it begs the question of how can one be expected to move on from something that meant so much to them. Can anyone fully get over their first love? The symptoms shown - Takaki’s indecisiveness, his coldness shown as an adult, his ability to cope being so bad that he quits his job - all show that we are all designed with thoughts and emotions. By the film’s end, Takaki has no real resolution. The ambiguous ending presented to the viewer gives no insight to where his life is going. Will his downward spiral continue or has this one passing view of the love of his life effectively brought him back to a world that makes some degree of sense? It’s ultimately up to the viewer to decide. It isn’t a gratifying ending, which is what makes it so great. Sometimes we can’t move on in the time frame others think we should. Sometimes we do end up losing everything. But there is always hope. Hope is what we can choose to be left with in this film.

There is a lot to unpack with 5 Centimeters per Second. Like I said in the beginning, it isn’t a story about moving on, but how dangerous it can be to stay in one place. The downfalls it can lead to and the hurt it can inflict on others and ourselves. There are some themes that deserve a section of their own and will probably be covered in another analysis. If you want to watch this film, it’s available on Crunchyroll in both Japanese with English subtitles and an English dub. I watched the sub and haven’t heard anything about the dub, but it’s always worth a try. Also, in case you wanted a score for how I felt about the movie, I will say the animation can be quite nice and the score has been on repeat in my house for a while now. 4/5.

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