I had occasion recently to view Shinkai Makoto’s 5 Centimeters per Second, an animated film put out by the man widely lauded as the next Miyazaki Hayao. In my history of contemporary Japan course we discuss Hayazaki’s films as representative texts from the 1980s and 1990s in their nostalgic visions of a cleaner, simpler past. Shinkai’s animated films are clearly inspired by Hayazaki’s work.
I first saw a Shinkai film a few years ago when I noticed his The Place Promised in Our Early Days in our library DVD collection. I found that film a bit hard to parse. It seemed to reflect a Cold War science fiction sensibility about a future Japan divided by competing Soviet and U.S. interests, and yet it was produced in 2004 after the Cold War had “ended.” Then I came across Shinkai’s magnificent 2-minute long advertisement for a Japanese distance-learning juku corporation-Z-Kai “Cross Road Special”. It focused a boy and girl from different parts of Japan who shared remarkably similar aptitudes and perspectives, used the same juku to prepare for the university exam, and then meet by chance outside the results board.
5 Centimenters also focuses on the almost mystical affinity that a boy and girl have for one another. In the film they end up drifting apart, but in the commercial the two end up at the same university. The ad ends with the note, “I’m not alone anymore.” Haven’t seen any of his other films yet, but they seem to follow similar story lines.