Lovefool 08.13.12 | The Velocity of the Written Word

This week, Lovefool pens a spoiler-filled love letter to 5 Centimeters Per Second, Yukiko Seike’s manga adaptation of the wistful Makoto Shinkai film of the same name.

 

 

When I was a teenager, I wrote letters. Even as an adult, if I have something serious to say, I’ve been known to write a letter, pen to paper, and sometimes I even mail them. More often than not, I just tuck them into a corner of a notebook somewhere so I know I’ve said it, even if it’s just to myself. It’s almost how I sort out my thoughts. But when I was a wee Lovefool, back before everyone had email and way, way before I could have a face to face chat with someone with five taps on my phone screen, I sent a lot of letters to a lot of pretty nerd boys while listening to sad songs on my Discman and I learned well the power of words on paper. Of course, words can still be just as effective over texts and emails but it loses something in the immediacy of it all, it loses a little bit of glamour when it’s all done via email: the focus that comes from writing a letter isn’t there. I mean, right now, I’m writing this column, which is sort of like a letter to you, and supervising the download of some music I just bought. I’m also keeping an eye on my Facebook and Twitter feeds and cell phone, where I’m having a conversation about cartoons. And one of my cats is hanging out with me so we’re having a chat, me and Meowie. Well, he’s shouting loudly enough to be heard over my headphones and I keep petting him. One part hasn’t changed, though. I’m listening to something a little sad.
 
I wouldn’t go back, of course. I like texting and emails and Facebook. But I have fond memories of my letter writing heyday. And I was reminded of them rather sharply today while reading 5 Centimeters Per Second, a manga adaptation of Makoto Shinkai’s incredibly highly acclaimed movie published in English by Vertical. I wish I had the movie handy because I’d love to see it. I’m going to pop ’round to my local nerd shop to see if it’s available before I order it but I’m super-excited about tracking it down. The manga, drawn by Yukiko Seike, is that kind of wistful that I love. and I bet it’s a wonderful movie. From the cityscapes of Toyko to the fields of Japan’s islands, it’s lovely and detailed and achingly beautiful and it’s about nothing special, just some kids and love.
 
The story itself starts with two strange little children, Takaki Tono and Akari Shinohara, meeting in elementary school. They like the same books, have some of the same issues that tend to isolate kids (they’re a little nerdy and have trouble breathing) and are familiar with being the new kids in class, due to their parents’ jobs moving them around. They grow closer and closer until, upon graduation from elementary school, Akari’s parents move her out of Tokyo. She’s only the first to go, though, as Takaki’s parents move him to a remote island soon after. The fledgling couple had some hope up until then since the country is connected through Tokyo but they decide, when they find out about his move, that they should meet up one more time while it’s easy for them. Of course, the day they decide to meet up is the day that heavy snows descend on the country, shutting down the trains as they reach their destination and leaving them abandoned in the country, where they find a shed to spend the night in while they’re waiting for morning and transit and talk themselves to sleep.
 
Morning and transit both come, as they tend to, and they hurtle off into the future, both of them living in tiny towns and waiting to grow back to each other. They don’t, of course, and the letters eventually just become an empty ritual that they stop as they grow apart and meet other people. This growing up and apart goes rather successfully in Akari’s case. Takaki has a little bit more trouble giving up his childhood promise to wait forever and it costs him dearly, preventing the start of what could be a lovely relationship with a directionless but sweet surfer girl in his new home and eventually resulting in the demise of the one serious adult romantic relationship he has after he moves back to Tokyo, where it all started.
 
It turns out that Akari has moved back to Tokyo as well, and is living right in Takaki’s neighborhood. Fittingly, they see each other while boarding trains going in opposite directions. They don’t end up talking to each other because they have places to be but, one day, they run into each other while walking across train tracks going, again, in opposite directions. Takaki stops and waits for the train to pass to talk to his childhood love and Akari…well, she doesn’t. She’s gotten married, you see, and she hasn’t had any trouble walking away from those childhood promises. Which is fair. We all have to grow up into someone and sometimes that someone doesn’t need the same things they did when they were thirteen. And when she turns and walks away from those train tracks, vanishing before the train passes, the spell is broken and Takaki smiles as he heads for home. And you know what? Maybe he doesn’t head for home, maybe he runs into the surfer girl, who has come to the big city to lay her own ghosts to rest. We see her in the last scene, shocked to see someone in a park but we don’t see who it is, just their shoes. I like to think it’s Takaki and he’s gotten a second chance. But we don’t know because this isn’t that kind of book, we don’t get everything all wrapped up in a pretty bow. And that’s okay.
 
Five centimeters per second is the rate that a cherry blossom falls to the ground, and we learn that two petals don’t necessarily fall together. Takaki dreams of being an astronaut and with Akari, and he doesn’t end up getting either. He breaks a few hearts along the way and, hopefully, he gets a chance to mend one of them when it’s all said and done. He lives a life distant and sad, always looking for the future but not really doing anything to meet it, and he has a fierce reckoning at one point when his adult girlfriend calls him on his nonsense before she walks away from him because he needs to sort himself out. He runs into the girl he’s been waiting his entire life to run into again and she walks away. But then he remembers that he doesn’t always have to be filled with that longing and what could be tragic suddenly isn’t. And that’s the most deft twist in this compelling story – the way the hero, the bumbling, emotionally defunct hero, rises above all this in the very moment that could send him crashing to the ground. Would that we all meet those moments so well. | Erin Jameson

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