I arrived at this movie from several places: some familiarity with animé, including the entire Region 2 Studio Ghibli collection; some familiarity with Japanese cinema, past and present; a visit to Tokyo and Kyoto several years ago.
Five Centimetres Per Second [DVD] , like Still Walking [DVD] , is unadulterated Japan in several respects. The characters behave in a restrained and understated manner, in accordance with the Japanese aesthetic of wabi-sabi. Cherry blossoms (but not cherries) and railways (but not the grease and technology of trains and rails) are important. The voice acting, especially the two female leads, is superior in the original Japanese.
The movie consists of three episodes. In each there is a pervading sense of sadness, loneliness and unresolvedness. The first episode has the most satisfactory story. Although the director, Makoto Shinkai, in a DVD extras interview, states that the theme of the movie is the rate at which things happen (blossoms drift to the ground, a train journey takes many hours, a rocket suddenly blasts off into space from Tanegashima Space Centre), it is the exquisite and pervasive sadness (the Japanese aesthetic of mono no aware) infusing the movie that lingers, as in Grave Of The Fireflies [DVD] .
Just as in most Studio Ghibli movies, some of the backgrounds in Five Centimetres Per Second are sumptuous. The attention to small details is gorgeous, for example, the articulating footplates between carriages on the train. Moreover, the 'camera angles' in Five Centimetres Per Second feel fresh and alive - although I suspect that this feature may be drawn from more traditional manga animé. The main characters in Five Centimetres Per Second, with their doe eyes and pointed noses, are pure animé. In contrast, the main characters in Studio Ghibli movies are drawn to appear more realistic. An aspect I find appealing about Studio Ghibli movies is that there can be many objects that are animated simultaneously. (The Ghibli museum in Mitaka screens, amongst other shorts, Water Spider Monmon, which is alive with movement.) In contrast, I found the staticness of characters and objects in Five Centimetres Per Second, which at times appeared like a sequence of still pictures, disappointing and mildly irritating.
The movie is paced appropriately to the subject material: mostly slow and quiet. However, the final section of the movie transforms into a kind of pop-music video, which may be indicative of some kind of emotional resolution, but if so it went over my head. The music was okay, but not haunting as in Spirited Away [DVD].
The English subtitles of the Japanese soundtrack are perfectly reasonable, despite some typographical errors. However, each subtitle quickly vanishes, and occasionally I had to replay some dialogue in order to read what was said.
The extras on the DVD are the usual, not very imaginative, offerings of a 'talking head', rather rambling, interview with the director; interviews with some of the voice artists; and a trailer for the movie. Had I been asked what I should have found interesting as extras, it would have included a short documentary addressing some of the Japanese aesthetics explored in the animation; and a documentary showing the real world locations on which parts of the animation are based. I should also have been happy to have had a director's commentary, and some original storyboarding.
Overall, I have absolutely no reservations about having watched the movie (and I shall view it again very soon), nor about buying a copy (which for me assumes that I shall watch it several times). It will undoubtedly appeal to people who enjoy feel-sad movies, as well as students of animé and animation. I am comfortable with the 4* rating I have given it.