Release Date(s)2007 (June 8, 2022)
Studio(s)CoMix Wave Inc. (GKIDS/Shout! Factory)
- Film/Program Grade: See Below
- Video Grade: See Below
- Audio Grade: See Below
- Extras Grade: B
- Overall Grade: A-
Makoto Shinkai may not be a name that’s as well known to international audiences as that of Hayao Miyazaki, but over two brief decades, he’s built up a body of work that rivals (and in some ways surpasses) that of the universally acknowledged master of Japanese animation. He’s also gone from being something of a cult figure to an established box office juggernaut, with his most recent features Your Name and Weathering with You having been major hits in Japan—Your Name actually became the second-highest grossing domestic production of all time, behind Miyazaki’s Spirited Away (though both were later improbably surpassed by Demon Slayer: Mugen Train in 2020).
There’s a remarkable consistency in all of Shinkai’s work, from his examinations of the ways that people interact with each other despite the different sorts of barriers that lie between them, to his fascination with how individuals interact with the environments that surround them. Like Andrei Tarkovsky, Shinkai takes frequent visual digressions to follow things like raindrops, or water flowing down a stream, or even the path of train tracks through urban environments. Yet he’s most interested in how all of that affects the lives of his characters, and that’s as true of his early films as it is of his later work.
The GKIDS/Shout! Factory Blu-ray release of Shinkai’s third film 5 Centimeters per Second includes his first film Voices of a Distant Star, with both combined onto a single disc. It also includes his first short subject, She and Her Cat. The Blu-ray comes with a slipcover that duplicates the poster artwork on the insert. Note that Voices of a Distant Star and all of the extras for both films are included together under the Bonus menu, but for purposes of clarity, this review will separate them by film.
5 Centimeters per Second was Shinkai’s third film, which the opening titles describes as being “A chain of short stories about their distance.” It’s divided into three different episodes, each of which takes place in a different time period during the lives of Takaki and Akari. They’re two young people who become close friends, but their relationship is challenged by the growing distance between them. Episode 1, Cherry Blossom, shows the developing bond between Takaki and Akari as elementary schoolchildren. They begin to lose contact with each other when Akari’s family moves a short distance away, but they try to reconnect before Takaki’s family relocates even farther away, across the country. Episode 2, Cosmonaut, follows Takaki in high school, as another classmate, Kanae, harbors a secret love for him. Yet she can see that his mind and his heart are focused on something far away from them both. Episode 3, 5 Centimeters per Second, shows Takaki as a young adult trying to reconcile his feelings with his sense of loss.
5 Centimeters per Second is as achingly beautiful as any of Shinkai’s other masterpieces, but it’s one of his most haunting as well. The sense of unrequited longing that’s always present in his work came to the fore in this film. At the opening, Akari explains to Takaki that a cherry blossom falls at five centimeters per second, and that becomes emblematic of their entire relationship. The slow but inexorable movement of cherry blossoms, snowflakes, and trains exemplifies the way that they can’t stop the physical and emotional distance between them from increasing. Everything in life is yet another obstacle, and modern conveniences like emails and texts are imperfect ways of bridging the gap. Even traditional communication like handwritten letters isn’t an adequate way to keep the bonds from breaking. Yet life goes on, as Takaki recognizes at the bittersweet conclusion.
Like all of Shinkai’s work, 5 Centimeters per Second was animated digitally, and while there’s little information available, it was likely produced at native 1080p resolution as was done for later Shinkai films like Your Name or Weathering with You. It was framed at the 1.78:1 aspect ratio displayed here, though that would have been cropped to 1.85:1 for its theatrical release. The image is sharp and clean, with minimal banding or other artifacts. The color grade carries the trademarked Shinkai look, with pastel tones dominating everything, but as expected, the real beauty of this transfer lies in his lighting effects. J.J. Abrams gets justifiable ridicule for his unmotivated overuse of anamorphic lens flares, but the light rays in a Shinkai film are an integral part of the design. The interplay between the lighting effects, environments, and the characters is a crucial element in the overall look. It’s why his films are so instantly recognizable. Miyazaki’s films stand out for their distinctive character designs, but Shinkai’s stand out for his use of light.
Audio is offered in English 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio and Japanese 5.0 DTS-HD Master Audio, with optional English, English SDH, Spanish, and French subtitles. (The Japanese 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio track from the out-of-print Diskotek Media Blu-ray isn’t included here.) As usual, the Japanese voice cast is arguably superior to the English language cast, but in this case, the fact that it’s the only 5.0 track gives it the edge regardless of language. The surrounds are relatively restrained, but they do contain ambient effects like falling rain, birds, insects, and subway noises. (Nature and those of urban life commingle in Shinkai’s films, both visually and aurally.) The lovely score from Tenmon, with his characteristically delicate piano lines, sound superb here.
Extras include the following:
- Feature Length Storyboard (HD – 63:24)
- Interview with Makoto Shinkai (Upscaled HD – 36:33)
- Interview with the Cast (Upscaled HD – 37:20)
- Music Video (HD – 5:34)
- Trailers (HD – 2 in all – 2:23)
The storyboards are a full-length presentation of the film using its original layouts, with the voices performed by Shinkai and Chieko Misaka. The actual storyboards end at approximately 58:10, with a “Memorial Photo Movie” appended at the end. That includes location photographs that were taken to guide the creation of the environments in 5 Centimeters per Second, as well as behind-the-scenes photos, and shots taken at the film’s premiere.
The interview with Shinkai is a wonderful look at his creative process. He explains why he chose the title, and how it represents the main theme of the film for him. His original concept started with ten different short stories using different songs in each of them, but he eventually narrowed it down to three with a common song to link all of them. He wanted the stories to tie together as a whole, while still working individually. He also covers other topics like how the actors were chosen, the voice recording, location scouting, and how he likes to try new ideas. It’s an essential dive into the mind of a creative genius, closing on a personal note. Compared to earlier interviews, like the ones that he did for Voices of a Distant Star and The Place Promised in Our Early Days, Shinkai’s increasing confidence as a filmmaker is mirrored by his increasing confidence in talking about his own work.
The cast interviews are with Kenji Mizuhashi (Takaki), Satomi Hanamura (Kanae), Yoshimi Kondo (young Akari in Episode 1), and Ayaka Onoue (older Akari in Episode 3). They talk about their characters, the recording process, and also give their thoughts about the finished film.
5 CENTIMETERS PER SECOND (FILM/VIDEO/AUDIO): A-/A-/B+
Voices of a Distant Star tells the story of MIkaku and Noboru, two teenagers who are separated when Mikaku is recruited into the UN Space Army to fight a distant alien enemy. Noboru is left behind, and the two are only able to communicate via email messages sent by cell phones. Yet as Mikaku travels farther and farther away from Earth, their messages take longer to cover the distance. The gaps between those messages grow from mere minutes to several years, increasing their sense of loneliness and isolation.
One of the most interesting aspects of Voices of a Distant Star is that Shinkai created a fully realized futuristic world, but then only gave brief glimpses of it, leaving the details unexplained. The storytelling remains elliptical, because his primary focus was always Mikaku and Noboru, with the world itself being little more than an obstacle that keeps them apart. Yet that world-building still provides a tangible sense of reality, which in turn brings the characters to life. In Shinkai’s universe, environment is character.
Amazingly, most of the major facets of the production of Voices of a Distant Star were handled by Shinkai himself. Possessory credits are always controversial, but in this case, Voices is absolutely a Makoto Shinkai film. He didn’t just write and direct it; he also served as producer, cinematographer, editor, and art director. As if that wasn’t enough, he also animated the entire film by himself, and even originally provided one of the voices. It’s as pure an expression of one person’s vision as can be found, and yet for Shinkai, it was only the beginning.
Voices of a Distant Star was animated digitally in standard definition, which has been upscaled to 1080i for this release. The image is understandably soft, with some aliasing visible, and halos around the opening and closing titles. It’s not bad, but there’s better upscaling technology out there today. The excellent 4K upscales of Your Name and Weathering with You were performed by Q-Tec, Inc. in Japan, and they likely could have produced better results here even when working with an interlaced standard definition source. Your mileage will vary depending on the size of your display.
Audio is available in English 5.1 Dolby Digital and Japanese 2.0 Dolby Digital. (The lossless 2.0 tracks and the English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track offered on All The Anime’s Region B release aren’t included here.) Optional English and English SDH subtitles are available. Once again, the voice acting is arguably better in the Japanese version, so it’s preferable despite the fact that it’s only in 2.0. The lack of a lossless track is disappointing, as those delicate piano lines in the score from Tenmon would benefit from avoiding lossy compression like this.
Extras include the following:
- She and Her Cat (Upscaled HD – 4:45)
- Interview with Makoto Shinkai (Upscaled HD – 8:33)
- Feature Length Storyboards (Upscaled HD – 23:04)
- Trailers (Upscaled HD – 3 in all – 5:54)
She and Her Cat is Shinkai’s first black-and-white short, and it’s even more of a one-person show than Voices of a Distant Star. Aside from the music by Tenmon and Mika Shinohara voicing “Her,” everything else was done by Shinkai. She and Her Cat is also presented in upscaled 1080i video, with Japanese 2.0 Dolby Digital audio, and removable English subtitles. (All The Anime’s version included lossless 2.0.) The Interview with Shinkai looks like it was conducted immediately after production of Voices, as he’s asked about what he wants to do next. He explains that he wants to create something that will last a long time in people’s hearts, and considering the remarkable films he’s made since then, he’s certainly achieved his goal many times over. The Storyboards in this case are really a complete animatic of the film, presented in black-and-white, with partial animation and storyboards covering the incomplete sections.
VOICES OF A DISTANT STAR (FILM/VIDEO/AUDIO): B+/C+/B-
The fact that GKIDS opted to pair 5 Centimeters per Second with Voices of a Distant Star is an interesting one. Previous import Blu-rays and domestic DVDs have paired both Voices of a Distant Star and She and Her Cat with The Place Promised in Our Early Days instead, which makes sense because that combines all of Shinkai’s earliest works. On the other hand, Voices of a Distant Star does have more thematically in common with 5 Centimeters per Second, so that may have influenced the decision. In any event, this the first North American release of Voices of a Distant Star, so it’s a cause for celebration no matter what. Shinkai fans will want to pick up both this release and the GKIDS version of The Place Promised in Our Early Days anyway, so think of it as two discs combining all three of Shinkai’s earliest films, with She and Her Cat thrown in for good measure. Buy both of them, and enjoy spending some time with one of the masters of Japanese animation—or to be more accurate, one of the masters of animation, period.
- Stephen Bjork