On the Sakura Fatalism in Five Centimeters per Second

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More reminders of work… data on the computer screen, books all over the desk and the good ol’ morning coffee. The one thing that stands out in this scene: The lucky boy has a window desk! I want a window desk. Stupid cubicle walls.

whitehatazn-48.jpgSo I finally got a DVD copy of Five Centimeters per Second. I saw it in my local Best Buy coming home from work and I thought “What the heck, I’ll buy it now.” (I’ve been waiting until RightStuf finally restocks and ships my order which still hasn’t happened yet.) This past Wednesday night, I watched with sis while cleaning up the kitchen (in English dub because I can’t multitask very well while watching subtitles). Anyway, I had seen the first part on fansub and now I’ve finally saw the whole thing.

The speed of falling in love

I’ll start off by saying the same thing everyone else has said about the movie: “ZOMG THIS MOVIE IS SO BLEEPING BEAUTIFUL!” On a more serious note, the visuals are truly stunning. The backgrounds are just so lush with detail and some of the lighting effects are brilliant. There are times when there are no characters drawn on the screen where the scene is so detailed that it may easily be mistaken for a real life location. I’m actually quite happy that I waited until the R1 DVD came out (because watching in 56” rear projection awesomeness is worth the release wait). Five Centimeters certainly lives up the billing as one of anime’s visual masterpieces.

I have one small beef with the movie: In the end, I feel like I could not attach myself too much to Takaki. Yeah, I did feel bad for him and the movie as a whole does a solid job emphasizing moments of personal emotion. However, the movie could have done more to construct a foundation for this released emotion.

I look specifically at the last and shortest part. We see Takaki as an adult moping about still highly affected by the events in the first part. My concern is the timeframe and Takaki’s mental state. There’s such a large time gap between the second and third parts that it seems fairly unlikely for a person to constantly rethink that event in the past. Along with his mindset, Takaki is someone who is very bitter in the third part. So much so that he seems to blame himself for an expected missed love that occurred 5+ years in the past as he lives in a state of self-denial of the present. This comes off as a bit overwhelming and the viewer might take this as unrealistic. Ending off with the vague sense that he may have woken up to reality (the passing train scene), Takaki seems a bit less human and more of the unrequited love main character which drove the plot.

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Another reminder of work… damn you Makoto Shinkai. Although, I heard that it is quite awesome to be out at the test site for a live fire test. I hope that’s true because looking at the pure numbers is just not interesting.

Sakura fatalism in anime

Five Centimeters opens up two of the classic themes in anime: love and fate. Together, they become a traditional combination that seem to resound in a ton of romance anime. What I call sakura fatalism (since it seems almost every romance anime has sakura petals floating about) is the element in this movie which I will reflect upon.

Thinking back at the various anime shows that utilize the element of fateful love, one that comes to mind is Ai Yori Aoshi. Aoi-chan is perfect example of a character struck by fateful love. The problem is that she’s too perfect. Her undying love for the male lead (Kaoru) since childhood makes her a very noble character yet it’s unrealistic. When she does re-meet him after the long separation, their relationship takes off fairly easily as if the years of being apart was nothing (in the anime version). Ai Yori Aoshi is one the classic examples of super idealized form of this idea.

Other anime which explore this idea, tons more come to mind (in the past: Love Hina, towards the present: Da Capo, Gift, etc…). Fateful love seems to resonate easily with promised girl and childhood friend characters. While those shows may not be as idealized as Ai Yori Aoshi, they certainly vary in their ability to execute that element.

I don’t have a major problem with fateful love even if it is overused. Good anime will use this element as a solid base for emotional release. My problem is when fateful love becomes an unrealistic representation of human emotion. Fateful love works as an element when utilized with a realistic expectation of struggle and resistance. Five Centimeters leaned a little too much on an impossible separation whereas Ai Yori Aoshi had next to no conflict. This element somewhere in between is probably the best.

Commitment: An east/west disconnect?

When I reflected on anime’s extensive use of combining fate and love, I started to think about the cultural significance of fate. Japanese culture certainly values fate on different level than Western society and maybe I’m not viewing this idea from the right mindset. Now, this is something in which I have very little study in (the closest I have to East Asian studies are some papers in Catholicism in the Philippines and a somewhat of a comparative religion class on life and death). As someone who enjoys studying different cultures, analyzing this is a challenge so please correct me if I’m wrong (nicely please).

To my understanding, a strong belief in fate entails a higher sense of commitment. One who believes that something is fated to happen implies that one is willing to deny things which disrupt that fated belief. This is in many ways what encompasses the aura of Aoi-chan in Ai Yori Aoshi. It is through her willingness to accept her fated lover that she ends up pushing towards him when things go south. Takaki in Five Centimeters also had this similar commitment. He still held on to the very dim fated return of Akari despite the kindness from the Kanae in the second part and the messages (from the Yomiko Readman look-alike) in the third part. Commitment seems to be a driving factor for the fatalist.

Now compare this to Western society which seems to value commitment as much as a used ticket stub. Considering that the States has one of the highest divorce rates in the world, Americans have a hard time with the idea of commitment even to their significant others. Why is this so different between the west and the east? The answers are many. What I find is that the west has grown to love the independence of the individual. Fatalistic notions serve to limit the potential of the self in the western mindset. And well, seeing someone devote him/herself exclusively to one’s own prophecy just doesn’t sit well in the west.

As for the sakura fatalism in the west, the time gap is too much to overcome. Feelings don’t hold easily after such long separations over time. It’s not like westerners are completely selfish. It’s just that we tend to grow out of views and relationships we held in the past. As a personal reference, I had a good friendship with a childhood friend (just like in anime). She ended up moving away in the 2nd grade and after 10+ years, we happened to re-meet online. Unlike anime, talking to her now made me realize how little I actually remember of past. Not only that, we had grown so apart over that timeframe that we couldn’t remember exactly why we were friends in the first place and it felt like we were talking as complete strangers. In the end, our views differ so greatly now that we’re just mere acquaintances. Yeah, my personal experience may not reflect about everyone in a similar situation. Yet, I see how the difference between the kind of person you may be at various stages of your life can be such a limiting factor in the return.

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One of the few things I remember about growing up: New Jersey never looks this good…

Five Centimeters per Second is still an excellent anime and my little rant here about fate and love shouldn’t deter one from seeing it. I really went down to nitpicking to find a partial flaw here. But it was something I found interesting and worth ranting about. Still, Five Centimeters is visually stunning, has an excellent soundtrack (Tenmon is just pure win) and is emotionally impactful. If you haven’t seen it yet, go and watch it.

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3 Responses to On the Sakura Fatalism in Five Centimeters per Second

  1. Okina says:

    Anime’s ultimate date movie. Watch it with someone you love. Or failing that as anime fans….watch it with a bottle of something you love. Might I suggest vodka…sake….Prozac…

  2. ssie says:

    “There’s such a large time gap between the second and third parts that it seems fairly unlikely for a person to constantly rethink that event in the past..”

    – No, actually, this is very possible. Have you ever fallen in love with someone from long ago and didn’t have a closure? If you had, you probably would understand why Takaki wasn’t able to move on from his childhood memories. What he’s feeling in the present might not necessarily be ‘love’ per se but more of regret and endless thoughts of what could have been. Akari, in a way, became his life’s turning point that when he was separated from her, he lost all his reasons for living. The third installment is actually the part I liked the most in the whole movie.

  3. Kamini Dixit says:

    My spouse and I stumbled over here from a different web page and thought I should check things out.

    I like what I see so i am just following you. Look forward to checking out your web page for a second time.

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