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12 Days, 12 Moments: Day 4–The Cosmonaut, Down-to-Earth

Today’s moment is brought to you by the Anime Blogging Collective and Makoto Shinkai’s wonderful film anthology, Byousoku 5 Cm, which is perhaps the apotheosis of Shinkai’s work and themes and–hopefully–a turning point in his career. Each of the three films are filled with wonderful moments to highlight, often for sheer visual beauty as well as a perfection of atmosphere and emotional resonance, but the one that stood out to me for this series was this particular moment, at the end of the second film “Cosmonaut.” It is a hallmark of how far he has come as an artist and storyteller since his astounding self-produced debut as well as an emotionally redeeming moment.


Day 4: The Cosmonaut, Down-to-Earth 

I have always loved science fiction and fantasy. Heck, I write it, and so am the last person to have a prejudice against them, especially in anime. But at the same time I have always felt that in the case of Makoto Shinkai’s oeuvre, the sci-fi elements were a crutch that frequently got in the way of his true goal, the pure expression of loneliness. Voices of a Distant Star at least used the old SF plot device of time dilation to decent effect, but even in that half-hour film I could have done with fewer mecha battles and alien worlds. It grew truly problematic in The Place Promised in Our Early Days, when it seemed far too much time and dialogue was spent discussing the scientific concepts than in exploring the characters, who were otherwise interesting and engaging. When I heard that Byousoku 5 cm promised to dispense with SF altogether in favor of contemporary settings, I was eager to find out how he would handle it, and was actually disappointed when I watched the first few minutes of “Cosmonaut.” Oh no, he’s at it again, I thought.

By the end, though, we see that the launching of a current-day space probe was really a beautiful metaphor for the way lives are launched into the distance apart from one another, and as the unrequited lovers stare at the trails of smoke curling into the air, it is a moment of sublime beauty and sadness, interrupting the angst that had threatened to come to a climax just before with both wonder and resigned realization.

And Shinkai leaves it at that. He at long last moves beyond the literal; his past works featured a couple separated by millions of light years or by time itself. Now the two are standing next to each other, but their hearts as far apart as can be. The effect of portraying this alongside the launch, foreshadowed by the launching of a paper airplane, is strikingly literary. I realize I’m starting to sound like my old creative writing teacher who loathed “genre” fiction and wanted us all to write this way, but it’s probably because this sort of thing, in the right hands, is really powerful. It speaks of Shinkai maturing artistically that he is able to do this right, especially in a visual medium.

I hope that this also means that he can at last move beyond his pet themes in future works, as I think Byousoku more or less says everything he can say anymore about the ‘distance’ motif. I would love to see him try to do an epic of some sorts, a multi-layered story spanning many times, or perhaps the a story of a person’s whole life. His gift is for nuance: background detail, inner thoughts. In anime it is a rare gift, and someone who can create moments like this needs to be using those talents full tilt to elevate this medium which is still so mired in cliche and lazy storytelling. 


This is an Anime Blogging Collective post. Other participants include


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