Shinkai’s Exquisite Human Touch

Acclaimed director Makoto Shinkai (Weathering With You, Your Name) first came into his own with the stunning 5 Centimeters Per Second. Hauntingly beautiful animation carries its tender, melancholic examination of young love as a boy matures into a man. The slight feature, barely running an hour, is a triptych of three connected vignettes told with emotional maturity and a hint of wistful longing. Star-crossed lovers experience the pangs of regret and unrequited emotions.

A masterpiece of tone and feeling, 5 Centimeters Per Second works wonderfully in the animated medium thanks to jaw-dropping visuals shaped under the careful eye of Makoto Shinkai. Sparse storytelling and lush character notes paint a sensitive portrait of main character Takaki in three different stages of life.

5 Centimeters Per Second is Makoto Shinkai finally finding himself as both astute director and accomplished animator

The title refers to the speed of falling cherry blossoms but may also refer to the slow, lurching relationship our protagonist endures. Shinkai deftly explores an understanding of time and distance as Takaki grows and evolves. How those two forces intertwine with Takaki’s changing heart becomes crucial in understanding Shinkai’s intentions.

Each of the three vignettes take place in chronological order at critical steps in Takaki’s development and wouldn’t be far removed from what anime fans dub slice-of-life snapshots. The opening story covers Takaki’s long journey meeting up with his childhood crush Akari, his first love. It’s the longest and most fully realized vignette in 5 Centimeters Per Second, gorgeously animated as a looming snowstorm threatens their long-awaited reunion. The romantic drama is almost guaranteed to produce a few tears.

Now moving to the last days of high school, the second vignette is more the tale of Kanae, a classmate who has secretly pined for Takaki over the years. He remains completely unaware of her interest and doesn’t realize her feelings. Shinkai switches up the setting to the warmer beaches of Japan, using Kanae’s surfing skills as an excuse to drop in dynamically rendered waves.

The third and final story depicts Takaki as a young adult now living in Tokyo, alone and pondering his feelings for Akari. Having not seen her in years, it’s evident she’s still very much on Takaki’s mind as he’s never quite gotten over his first love.

5 Centimeters Per Second is Makoto Shinkai finally finding himself as both astute director and accomplished animator. Coming after his successful but raw The Place Promised In Our Early Days, he paints an intricate tableau of young love complicated by familiar obstacles. The rich animation isn’t just an excuse for eye candy, often driving home the mood of each character during specific scenes.

Heartfelt and often breathtaking, 5 Centimeters Per Second is delicate as gossamer and stuffed with haunting substance. A bit thin on actual narrative and connective tissue, its aching beauty can leave you speechless.

Video

5 Centimeters Per Second has been around the block a few times on Blu-ray, having seen multiple versions released in Japan over the years. The 2008 anime film was originally issued by Discotek Media in North America on a now out-of-print BD. Thanks to GKIDS, they’ve reissued Shinkai’s stunningly-animated classic in a gorgeous 1.78:1 presentation.

Licensed from CoMix Wave, it’s hard believing there are serious differences in video quality from a disc released only a few years ago. The movie is simply breathtaking on several levels with marvelously conceived backgrounds plucked from real life inspirations. Animation purists will flip out for its lush palette and impeccable line work, a hallmark of all Makoto Shinkai films.

The main feature is encoded in fully transparent AVC on a BD-50. Running a short 62 minutes, it’s a clean compression effort with minor indications of banding in a few select moments. The 1080p video is vibrant with shimmering lighting effects and impressive color saturation.

Easily one of the best-looking anime films ever made, GKIDS provides a perfect transfer of nearly flawless animation. 5 Centimeters Per Second is a BD every animation lover must own and view on a high-quality display.

Audio

The sound design in 5 Centimeters Per Second is surprisingly artful and even robust for anime, an early indicator Shinkai believed in a unified approach concerning audio and video. GKIDS provides the original Japanese audio in 5.1 DTS-HD MA, though a null channel for LFE reflects the original soundtrack intent.

Crisp fidelity and a gentle, sweet piano score epitomize the confident, subtly immersive surround mix. An ambient collage of urban noises, driving train sounds, and atmospheric effects produce a quietly impressive sonic experience. The soft dialogue always remains intelligible in a mix which isn’t extremely dynamic but nicely balanced.

Two English dubs circulate for the film, one recorded many years ago when ADV Films first put it on DVD. Unfortunately, it has never appeared on Blu-ray. GKIDS only includes the newer English dub that was also on the prior BD, headlined by Johnny Yong Bosch playing Takaki. The 2.0 DTS-HD MA audio lacks the same immersion and confidence as its Japanese counterpart. It’s a fair adaptation but less noteworthy than the superior voice acting found on the Japanese audio. Unless you are allergic to reading subtitles, go with the Japanese dub.

Optional English, English SDH, Spanish and French subtitles play in a white font. The English subtitles are a translation of the Japanese audio.

Extras

GKIDS sweetens the pot with the first appearance of Shinkai’s first short film on BD in North America, the acclaimed Voices of A Distant Star. Made entirely by himself, it’s an impressive animated debut which instantly made him a name in the industry. The disc is loaded with older special features starring the cast and Shinkai, mostly new here in North America. They extensively cover how the movie was animated and Shinkai’s creative process.

The disc is coded for Region A and arrives in a high-gloss slipcover if you are lucky which lines up well with other Shinkai Blu-rays from GKIDS. With everything included, there’s simply no reason to ignore this fantastic release.

  • Feature-length storyboards (63:24 in HD; 2.0 Japanese Dolby Digital w/ English Subtitles)
  • Interview with Shinkai (36:33 in upscaled HD w/ English Subtitles)
  • Interview with cast (37:20 in upscaled HD) – All four voice actors for Takaki, Akari, and Kanae give their impressions and memories of making the movie.
  • Music video (05:34 in HD) – The theme song “One More Time, One More Chance” by Masayoshi Yamazaki
  • Trailers (02:23 in HD)
  • Voices of a Distant Star Short Film (24:46 in 1080i; 5.1 English Dolby Digital & 2.0 Japanese Dolby Digital) – Set in 2046, two star-crossed friends reach out to one another across the vast distances of space as one of them heads out past Mars for war with aliens.
  • She and Her Cat short film (04:45 in HD)
  • Interview with Makoto Shinkai for Voices of a Distant Star (08:33 in SD)
  • Storyboards for Voices of a Distant Star (23:04 in upscaled HD; 2.0 Dolby Digital with no English subtitles)
  • Trailer Collection (04:54 in SD) – Three international trailers for Voices of a Distant Star

Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided by the label for review. For information on how we handle all review material, please visit our about us page.

5 Centimeters Per Second
  • Video
  • Audio
  • Extras
5

Movie

Makoto Shinkai tenderly explores a boy’s first love and how it impacts the rest of his life in this brilliantly animated masterpiece.

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The following six screen shots serve as samples for our subscription-exclusive set of 55 full resolution, uncompressed HD screen shots pulled directly from the Blu-ray: