ghostlightning’s call for articles and thoughts about 5cm Per Second made me dig up my old articles about that film, and for some reason, led me to rediscover the ED song “One More Time, One More Chance.” I can no longer stop listening to it, this song I once gently panned in my review for being an intrusion on the ending. What happened?
More than a year has passed since I wrote my review of 5cm Per Second. Since then, I have seen the film three more times, always with friends for whom it was the first viewing, and each time, it seems, the song’s brilliance has become more and more clear. I began to pay more attention to the lyrics and not just the flashes of light-dappled imagery, and discovered just how much the song was able to sing about loneliness, in ways that not even the exquisite dialogue or imagery could say.
Whenever we disagreed, I would always give in first
Your selfish nature made me love you even more
One more chance, the memories restrain my steps
One more chance, I cannot choose my next destination
Those lines hit me between the eyes. Shinkai seems to know how to tap into the psyche of the kind of male who does this sort of thing, who gives in to this sort of passivity and relational directionlessness, paralyzed by the past. I get the feeling, too, that like Evangelion it sort of takes one to know one; this movie is only emotionally compelling if you can sympathize or empathize with it rather than reacting with disgust or frustration. Here I noticed a divide between my friends who watched the film with me. The less shy and the less geeky they were, the less they could tolerate this sentiment, and the less they found the film moving in general. 5cm Per Second is, at the end of the day, a lost love story for shy geeks. Perhaps, if one dares to generalize, shy Asian geeks.
I’m not saying this kind of thinking is admirable–it isn’t. The older I get the more I see that. But I’m still not old enough to forget what this was like.
If I just wanted to avoid loneliness, anybody would have been enough.
Because the night looks like the stars will fall, I cannot lie to myself.
I remember coming to a point in my life when I realized that the gnawing emptiness of my late teens to my early twenties was not simply loneliness. It was too deep for that; it didn’t go away when I started seeing someone and went through the usual ups and downs that happen in a relationship. It was a sense of being adrift in the world, being in a job that was tolerable at best and wondering when some larger purpose or mission would come into my life. This is one of those aspects, I think, where 5cm Per Second‘s horizons are a bit more limited than Honey and Clover‘s. 5cm is almost entirely about romantic loneliness, which metastasizes into regret-filled self-loathing. This, of course, happens in real life, but it’s only one dimension. H&C paints a larger canvas in which romance is only one part of life, alongside career, calling, and the meaning of maturity and self. But these lines in the song reminded me that even in this film, loneliness is a symptom, not the disease. It is about the feeling of waiting for someone that may never come, as in the next verses:
I’m always searching, for your figure to appear somewhere
At a street crossing, in the midst of dreams
Even though I know you couldn’t be at such a place
If a miracle were to happen here, I would show you right away
The new morning, who I’ll be from now on
And the words I never said: “I love you.”
“The words I never said”: a five word summation of regret. In the film, we see images of his childhood flashing by, which now become symbols of missed opportunities. About how even though there was a kiss, there weren’t any words, and words are still important. So important, that left unsaid they harden the heart as they search, futilely, for the one who was meant to hear them.
What I wrote back then was that the movie was like a long sigh of “If only…” It took me a while to realize just how much this song, with the singer’s voice rising and rising almost to a breaking point, was not just a sigh, but a scream. The film could have ended, believably, with a pathetic whimper. What the song did was turn it into a cri du coeur, a song for all the people (and isn’t it almost everyone?) who have felt like this at some point in their lives. That’s what good art does: it puts things into forms and words that we cannot quite say ourselves. It crystallizes the feeling and the moment in a way that we cannot fail to recognize as true. The song does it well in its context.
And to tell the truth, I cannot exactly say why I wrote this article rather than the review of Kara no Kyoukai 4 I was planning. It isn’t loneliness, really, not present loneliness. Maybe the song reopened the sort of feelings I haven’t talked about or felt in a while in a way, a kind of reverse nostalgia–not a warm and fuzzy feeling about the past but a shiver of recognition of what once was, and what still might be without vigilence.