5cm per Second (秒速5センチメートル) is the third animated film by Makoto Shinkai (新海誠), "a chain of short stories about their distance." The film is interestingly structured by having 3 story arcs that have very different settings and timeline, but are related to each other through their characters and theme.
Ookashou (桜花抄), the prelude, is about young Takaki traveling long distances during heavy snow to visit his good friend Akari, with whom he has been keeping in touch by writing letters. Takaki's family is moving, making future meetings impossible. In this story speed seems to be the main theme: speed at which flower petal falls, letter travels and finally how the lack of speed causes anxiety as the two main characters try and suceed in conquering the physical distance between them.
Cosmonaut (コスモナウト), the second story, centers around Kanae's inability to confess her feelings for Takaki. It is the same Takaki from the first story, and he is a little older, friendly and gentle towards everyone but is always distant. Takaki has now moved to Tanegashima (種子島) where Japan's space development center is located. The characters here always look up to the sky, birds or rocket as it launches. These represents distant goals or people, and reflects their ignorance of what is in front of them. Takaki is seen writing messages to Akari, but sends none. Kanae worked up enough courage to approach Takaki, but ultimately realize that Takaki's mind is away with another person.
5cm per Second (秒速5センチメートル), the final arc, starts out with Takaki crossing an intersection and noticed a familiar face. As he turned to confirm if it was Akari, the train separates the two so that Takaki is unable to see. Music starts and memory of Akari floods Takaki, interlaced with his recent experience working in Tokyo. Short scenes from both Takaki and Akari's memory narrates how the two have been living apart, and it was revealed that she is with another man. At the end of arc we see Takaki looked back, waiting for the train to pass. But as the train passed, Akari isn't on the other side. There is something special between Takaki and Akari and it's clear from the narratives that they reserved space in their hearts for each other. But now that they are finally in Tokyo together, the lack of correspondance had them grown apart. The complete opposite of what happened in the first story.
So the film contrasts distances between people's feelings and their physical locations in the 3 stories. And while the overall plot may be fairly simple, the complex feelings they convey is very powerful. Plus the backgrounds and characters are beautifully drawn with amazingly few artists. This achieves a level of consistency that works very well for setting continuity between the story arcs. I am also impressed with the fact that the same person did voices for young and grown-up Takaki.
This is an excellent film from both technical and artistic perspectives, in my opinion, involving a kind of sensitivity not easily found in many films. If you watch the DVD, the director's interview is also very interesting. The official website on Yahoo also has a trailer in 720p, which gives a good idea for the quality of animation. I only wish my Japanese is better so that I could understand better some of the dialogs. Time to study...