The story is set in Japan, beginning in the 1990s up until the present day (2008), with each act centered on a boy named Takaki Tōno. The first act takes place during a time when cell phones are uncommon and email had not yet reached the general population.
Takaki Tōno quickly befriends Akari Shinohara when she transfers to his elementary school in Tokyo. They grow closer to each other due to similar interests and attitudes; for instance, they both prefer to stay inside during recess due to their seasonal allergies. As a result, they form a strong bond; they speak to each other using their given names without any form of honorifics, which is a sign of deep friendship and familiarity in Japan.
Upon graduating from elementary school, Akari moves to the nearby prefecture of Tochigi, due to her parents' jobs. The two keep in contact by writing letters but eventually begin to drift apart. When Takaki learns that his family will be moving to Kagoshima on the other side of the country, he decides to personally go see Akari, since they will be too far apart to visit each other at all after moving. He also prepares a letter for Akari confessing his feelings for her. However, Takaki loses the letter during the journey and a severe snowstorm continuously delays his train for several hours. As the two finally meet and share their first kiss, Takaki realizes they will never be together again. Stranded in a shed due to the snowstorm, they fall asleep after talking late into the night. Takaki departs from the train station the next morning, and the two promise to continue writing to each other. As the train rolls away, Takaki decides that the loss of his letter is not important anymore after the kiss, while Akari silently looks at her own letter addressed to Takaki.
Takaki is now in the third year of senior high in Tanegashima, where the Tanegashima Space Center is located. Kanae Sumida, a classmate of Takaki, has been in love with him ever since meeting him in middle school but has never had the courage to confess her feelings. She tries to spend time with him, waiting long after school for the chance to travel home together. However, Takaki appears ignorant to Kanae's feelings and only treats her as a good friend. Kanae observes that Takaki is always writing emails to someone or staring off into the distance as if searching for something far away. It is later shown that Takaki's emails are not being sent to anyone, and that he has had recurring dreams which feature Akari. After a failed attempt to tell Takaki she loves him, Kanae eventually realizes that he is looking for something far beyond what she can offer and decides not to, though she believes she will always love him. With such thoughts, she cries herself to sleep.
It is 2008. Takaki is now a computer programmer in Tokyo, while Akari is preparing to get married to another man. Takaki is still longing for Akari to the detriment of his lifestyle, which is acknowledged by an ex-girlfriend. A depressed Takaki later leaves his job, being unable to cope with his feelings for Akari. Akari goes through her old possessions and finds the letter addressed to Takaki. Takaki and Akari have a dual narration, both recalling a recent dream depicting the events of their last meeting in the snow and hoping to watch the cherry blossoms together again.
One day while walking down a road, Takaki and Akari appear to pass and recognize each other at a train crossing, where they had decided to watch cherry blossoms together thirteen years ago, right before Akari's sudden move to Tochigi. At opposite sides of the tracks, they stop and begin to look back, but the passing trains cut off their view. Takaki waits for the trains to pass and sees that Akari is gone. This shows that she moved on from the past. After a moment, he smiles to himself and continues walking. This shows that he can finally move on from Akari and start a new chapter of his life.Takaki Tōno (遠野 貴樹, Tōno Takaki)
Voiced by: Kenji Mizuhashi (Japanese); David Matranga (ADV Films release) and Johnny Yong Bosch (Bang Zoom! Entertainment release) (English)
Takaki is the central character of the film. Because of his parents' jobs, he is forced to move a lot. He and Akari become close friends, but when Akari moves away, they end up attending different junior high schools. In the second arc, he is shown to be an apt kyūdō practitioner and a member of his school's kyūdō club.
Akari Shinohara (篠原 明里, Shinohara Akari)
Voiced by: Yoshimi Kondō (Act 1) and Ayaka Onouei (Act 3) (Japanese); Hilary Haag (ADV), Erika Weinstein (Act 1, Bang Zoom!) and Tara Platt (Act 3, Bang Zoom!) (English)
Takaki's best friend and love interest in elementary school. Like Takaki, she and her family move a lot. After elementary school, she moves to Iwafune. Apparently she suggests living with her aunt in Tokyo in order to stay with Takaki, but her parents forbid this. For a while, she and Takaki keep in touch via post.
Kanae Sumida (澄田 花苗, Sumida Kanae)
Voiced by: Satomi Hanamura (Japanese); Serena Varghese (ADV) and Kira Buckland (Bang Zoom!) (English)
A classmate of Takaki in high school. She has been in love with Takaki since he began attending her junior high school, but cannot express her feelings to him. Kanae loves to surf and rides a moped to school. She doesn't know what she wants to do with her future. Her older sister is a teacher at her high school.
Alternatively in the manga, she is seen working as a nurse after the events on the film. She decides to go looking for Takaki at Tokyo and after arriving and wandering aimlessly for a while she finally gets his phone number. Just as she decides to go back and not see him, he seems to walk in front of the park bench where she is, presumably noticing her and her noticing him.
Makoto Shinkai had expressed that, unlike his past works, there would be no fantasy or science fiction elements in this film. Instead, the feature film would attempt to present the real world from a different perspective. Makoto's film gives a realistic view of the struggles many face against: time, space, people, and love. The title 5 Centimeters per Second comes from the speed at which cherry blossoms petals fall, petals being a metaphorical representation of humans, reminiscent of the slowness of life and how people often start together but slowly drift into their separate ways. The movie marks the first time Shinkai has worked closely with a full staff of animators and artists.Director, Writer and Original Creator: Makoto Shinkai
Character Design and Chief Animation Director: Takayo Nishimura
Background Art: Takumi Tanji, Ryoko Majima
Production and Distribution: CoMix Wave, Inc.
The DVD was released on 19 July 2007 in Japan. The title was licensed by ADV Films and scheduled for a December 2007 release, but the release was delayed until March 2008. The film's Region 2 DVD release date was pushed back from 4 March 2008 to April 2008. The official Russian release by Reanimedia was already in stock in January 2008. The film is also licensed in Taiwan by Proware Multimedia International. On 11 July 2008, ADV announced that it was discontinuing print of the DVD. Bang Zoom! Entertainment has re-dubbed the entire film at the request of its original Japanese distributor, and the new dub was first streamed via Crunchyroll as part of their Day of Makoto Shinkai on 28 February 2009. On 13 August 2010, Crunchyroll CEO Kun Gao announced plans to release titles on DVD, starting with 5 Centimeters per Second. Bandai Entertainment manufactured and distributed the DVDs, which included the Bang Zoom! dub. This version was released 22 February 2011. In 2015, Discotek Media announced that it had licensed 5 Centimeters per Second for a DVD release on 2 June that year.
On 29 March 2009 the distribution company Madman Entertainment announced plans to release 5 Centimetres Per Second in Australia. The film's ending theme was "One More Time, One More Chance" by Masayoshi Yamazaki. The Blu-ray version of the film has been released on 18 April 2008 in Japan. The HD DVD version of the film has also been released on 18 April 2008, which is region-free by default.
The novel version of 5 Centimeters per Second, licensed by Media Factory, was released on 16 November 2007 in Japan. It was the first novel written by Makoto Shinkai. The photographs in the novel were also taken by Shinkai. Another version of the novel, One more side, was released on 20 May 2011 in Japan. The author is Shinta Kanou, who wrote the novels for Voices of a Distant Star and The Place Promised in Our Early Days which are both Makoto Shinkai's films.
The manga adaptation of the film, illustrated by manga artist Yukiko Seike, started serialization in Kodansha's seinen magazine Afternoon in July 2010 and has been published in English as a single volume omnibus by Vertical Inc. In the manga adaption, the second two sections of the story are expanded upon. Akari, Kanae, and Risa all receive much more individual time.
The producers of the popular Chinese animated series Xin Ling Zhi Chuang (Spirit's Window) have been accused of copying several backgrounds from 5 Centimeters per Second with minor modification. The program's introduction describes it as "a program produced for the youth of China, and animation to raise wholesome minds and teach a noble view of life."
Natsuki Imai, a Japanese television and film director known for her 2007 film Koizora, views 5 Centimeters per Second as a film "completely for adults even though it is an anime".
The film won the Lancia Platinum Grand Prize at the Future Film Festival for best movie in animation or special effects. It won the Award for Best Animated Feature Film at the 2007 Asia Pacific Screen Awards. The limited edition DVD of the film was ranked 3rd on the Tohan charts between 18–24 July 2007, while the regular edition of the film was ranked 7th. The film was Japan's fourth most popular Blu-ray film in 2008.
Shinkai has been hailed as the next Miyazaki, and his dreamy mindscapes often equal or surpass the anime maestro in breadth of detail and depth of emotion. Shinkai extends the innate possibilities of the anime dynamic, reapplying its principles of lush effects, inflated background detail and sometimes undernourished character animation to mirror the interiority of the characters in every nuance of their surroundings." – Ronnie Scheib from Variety
Mania.com lists 5 Centimeters per Second as the best anime not by Hayao Miyazaki. The Japan Times's Mark Schilling commends Shinkai saying that he is better than Miyazaki "at piercing the veil of the everyday to reveal a poignant, evanescent beauty most of us notice only in rare moments." Anime News Network's Bamboo Dong commends the anime for its "heartbreakingly gorgeous" piano score composed by Tenmon, which "contributes to the dreamlike quality that the film has". She also comments that film "never comes out and tells you what the characters are feeling. It never follows a strict storyline, but between the interactions on the screen and well-timed shots of lonely landscapes, everything is as clear as night and day". Mania.com's Chris Beveridge criticises the anime for its aliasing as well as it "seems to get a fairly low bitrate during a lot of it which leads to some noisy and overly grainy feeling areas. The film has so many lush colors to it that a lot of them start to show too much noise at times which is almost as distracting as the aliasing." Theron Martin reviewing for Anime News Network commends "The production [which] also excels in its use of sound effects, especially in the bow-shooting scenes in Part 2".
Taken individually, the parts offer nice little vignettes, but taken as a whole they paint a broader picture about the progression of life and love. The ending, which is where this work differs most from Shinkai's previous efforts, will doubtless be controversial and may leave some fans unsatisfied, as it opens itself to multiple interpretations. Some may feel as if it just ends without resolving anything, but if one considers Takaki's few lines of narration in part two, how that part ends, and how everything fits together, it becomes clearer that actually resolving things was never the point. Whereas Voices was about trying to maintain a connection and Place Promised was about reestablishing one, Five Centimeters is ultimately about moving on from past connections instead of just living in the past, about finding a way to become happy in the present rather than just pining for what has been lost over time. In that sense Five Centimeters is Shinkai's most mature and complicated work yet." – Theron Martin, Anime News Network