Many of us are familiar with the works of Makoto Shinkai, the famous Japanese director of modern hits like Your Name or Weathering With You. Throughout parts of 2020-2021 I’ve looked through a bunch of his works and have noticed that they all hinge on one specific theme: getting a boy and girl together. With one special exception, that is: 5 Centimeters Per Second – unlike his other films which generally tend to have storybook endings, this one explores the opposite of that effect happening. I was quite ruthless with this film at the time I reviewed it, and since then I’ve somewhat softened up to it once I dug deeper into its shebang around forgotten or unrequited love. I also made mention of some similarities between it and another novel that’s of fond memory: F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 20th-century classic, The Great Gatsby.
Said novel was a book I studied in my final semester of high school, and even eight years after I graduated from that place I still fondly remember that story the most, more than those of Shakespeare. Given how much I sympathized with someone like Jay Gatsby more than any other that I’ve come across since then, it’s no wonder that I could easily read the similar tones between this story and Makoto Shinkai’s tale: both featuring a main character who longs for the halcyon days spent with his dream girl, and fighting against the currents of time to preserve, and reignite that moment. All these led me to making this the subject of this East Meets West article where, using my fallible powers of comparative analysis I look at features in two similar-based stories, and declare one as the superior version.
EASTERN COMPETITOR #17: 5 CENTIMETERS PER SECOND
Prior to this film’s 3 March 2007 release, Makoto Shinkai was fascinated with works based on science fiction. His first flick, Voices From A Distant Star, which he incredibly animated on his own computer, featured a girl fighting an intergalactic war in a Gundam knockoff, while sending emails to her crush which take longer to deliver the further she is from Earth. The Place Promised In Our Early Days saw two boys and their female crush build a plane to visit a Soviet-occupied landmark. But in the case of 5 Centimeters Per Second, the only thing that he would rely on to captivate the story was nothing else than the universal human experience of losing touch with someone. In this case, we are treated to a 65-minute long story about a boy named Takaki Tohno, who is friends with a girl named Akari Shinohara and falls in love with her. In three parts, we look at several moments in his life: starting with him taking an 8-hour long road trip to visit Akari (who had moved away prior to the start of the endeavour), followed by him in high school, where he befriends a girl named Kanae Sumida, who gets the dubious honor of getting rejected by him, and finally ending with him as a grown adult who is filled with deep regrets over losing touch with Akari, and spirals into depression.
Rollercoaster is the best word to define this film – hopeful, nostalgic, redeeming, and contemplative – which is why it found success among critics and audiences for its realistic portrayal of romance and how close to home it hits for folks like myself included. It did win the Asia-Pacific Screen Award as the Best Animated Feature Film of 2007, but for those who still can’t get enough of this, there’s also a novel version written by Makoto Shinkai himself, and a manga which expands into the story in greater detail, particularly the final segment.
WESTERN COMPETITIOR #17: THE GREAT GATSBY
Long before Leonardo DiCaprio, Tobey Maguire, Amitabh Bachchan and Isla Fisher made this film a household name once again, the film started off as a novel that author F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote in 1925, the height of the Jazz Age, when the Great Depression was nothing but a pipe dream, taking inspiration from his fling with an American socialite and the lavish parties he attended with her. A young man, Nick Carraway, arrives on Long Island, the east-end district of a then-growing New York City, where he becomes acquainted with Tom and Daisy Buchanan, a wealthy American couple and Jordan Baker, who Nick becomes infatuated with. One night, he is invited to the estate of Jay Gatsby, a wealthy but mysterious individual known for throwing lavish parties nightly – and comes face to face with him. From there a bond establishes between the two, where he reveals the true intentions of his master plan: during the height of the First World War, while stationed in the U.S. he met a then-single Daisy, and the two started a romance. Unfortunately, his hopes of continuing it were dashed when she married Tom, and since then he’s been hoping to set right what went wrong all those years ago. Making a fortune, buying an estate, and all these parties (which, by the way, he never attended) were just a ruse in the hopes of getting her back into his arms. This he successfully relives for a bit, until his untimely death at the hands of an angry mechanic whose wife Tom had an affair with.
Despite initial criticism that it did not match up to Fitzgerald’s previous works, it has went on to spawn multiple film, radio and theatrical adaptations, and has been regarded by many as one of the finest in American classical literature, among works by Mark Twain, Harper Lee, and J.D Salinger. It’s a novel which gives not only a fine insight to life during the rowdy pre-World War II United States, but also explores poignant themes such as blurring dreams and reality, being stuck in the past, and the qualities of true and false love.
The existence of a romance subplot is the one thing which conjoins 5 Centimeters Per Second and The Great Gatsby. Without it, the story would basically be nothing alike to each other, as it’s that which drives the plot and influences the main characters. So, I am going to analyze those components from both movies, and the effect it had on the main relationship.
CATEGORY #1: MALE PROTAGONIST
While Jay Gatsby is a successful American businessman whose figure commands pride, respect and provides an air of eccentric charisma, and Takaki Tohno is a shy, mellow, introverted high school student who is lonely and indecisive, one thing they share is their inability to move on, a constant life of regrets, and reacting emotionally than logically. Both characters see their love interests (Akari for Takaki, Daisy for Jay) in idealistic fashion, and it is that delusion that they chase after, all in the name of a long-gone past.
Takaki’s incapacity to forget about his past life comes to fruition as the second part of the movie begins. His love for Akari drives his modus operandi, even though he gets lots of attention from Kanae, a girl in his school. He chooses to ignore her advances and cope with his feelings for Akari passively, spending nights alone in a field texting apparently to no one. It turns out these were meant for Akari, who he can’t bring himself to communicate with, and thus is responsible for letting his friendship with her slide into history. As the final part begins, he comments at one point, “These last few years, some part of me wanted to move forward and touch what I couldn’t reach, but I couldn’t define it.” Again, this is a reference to Akari, which explains why he lives a sad state of life, breaking up with his then-girlfriend of three years, quitting his job, and wandering aimlessly across Tokyo as if in search of a purpose. Similarly, Takaki saying that line was, for me, a direct parallel to a similar incident involving Jay Gatsby.
Nick, in the first chapter, describes how a lonely Gatsby stands at the dock, reaching his hands to “grasp” a green light on the sea. That green light, part of a floating buoy, points to Daisy – a girl who he has been pining for five years. After meeting Nick, who knows Daisy as a mutual, he enlists him to help him get re-acquainted with her, in the hopes he’ll win her back. For a time, he gets her far as to visit his mansion and a dance with him. Although it’s clear that some part of Daisy loved him, and enjoyed catching up from the five years lost, Jay isn’t satisfied with that. From here, his character unravels from the mysterious, classy figure when Nick moves to New York, into the desperate, wistful, almost sorry person that’s lost his soul. He pushes his luck, wanting more than just meeting bits and pieces of her on occasion, and rather time with her forever; and that leads to his fall from grace. Perhaps his story can be best summarized through the lens of the following line: “Can’t repeat the past? Why, of course you can!”, in response to Nick saying otherwise after one party, which serves to symbolize what he stands for.
Here, Jay is more of an action man, while Takaki is the reserved observer. Their means of expressing their woes and desires are made clear in their own unique ways, but I found Takaki’s to be quite callous, with a defeatist dish to follow it – while Jay’s unmitigated willingness to take risks to get what he wants, although disastrous for him, won my attention and admiration, in spite of the obvious futility of his goal. But that’s beside the point: his multi-layered persona, the confidence and uncompromising honesty with his feelings is something that I still remember to this day as definitive of The Great Gatsby.
THE GREAT GATSBY 1-0 5 CENTIMETERS PER SECOND
CATEGORY #2: FEMALE LOVE INTEREST
Both Akari and Daisy are the stumbling blocks in Takaki and Jay’s respective quests to evolve with time, and are all that they can think of every waking moment of their lives. In respect to their characters, however, what we know about them comes mainly from the perspective of the people who are narrating for them – Nick for Daisy, and, well, Takaki for Akari. Akari is, for the most parts, a kind, soft-spoken and gentle girl who becomes Takaki’s best childhood friend. She cozies up to Takaki when they first meet in middle school, and develop a strong friendship that, were it not for some one-sided mishaps, might have persisted to at least the end. The first part explores her character’s relationship with Takaki, which sees her exchanging letters that culminate in the latter making a 16-hour round trip to visit her, have dinner, and share their first kiss. Unfortunately, after that, her character virtually disappears into Takaki, and the film’s memory, stuffing away what potential growth her character could have.
Daisy Buchanan is the wife of Tom, a former Harvard sportsman who are complete opposites. Tom is gruff while Daisy is gentle; he is dominating and extroverted while she is submissive and slow to conversation. However, one thing they can bond over is their pride over their social status, and most importantly, their extreme unfaithfulness towards each other (Tom has an affair with Myrtle, the wife of his mechanic while Daisy and Jay share some small moments). It’s clear that outside of these, the two have nothing in common, but they could care less about fixing each others’ faults. The lack of connection exacerbates her feelings for Jay when they meet again, but at the pivotal moment where he tries to convince her to leave Tom and be with him, she falls into an indecisive stupor, and finally decides on Tom, citing convenience – precipitating Jay’s fall.
I’m not going to lie: I say the female romantic leads were very uninteresting. They’re both shallow, aren’t as well- developed as Takaki or Jay, and there’s nothing redeemable or noteworthy about them, apart from the fact that one is basically a Mary Sue by any other name and the other is a spoiled, oft-spaced-out stock character. The way I see it, they were just pawns in their sob stories and serve merely as plot drivers rather than actually fleshed-out individuals. Their male love interests view them as prizes, or at the very least, lost treasures and we never really see the romance explained from their perspective. I do however find Akari to be slightly more interesting than Daisy because she’s what the latter isn’t: an independent individual who doesn’t succumb easily to her partners’ wishes, and, in a twist to Daisy who’s somewhat blocked up by her pre-married life, doesn’t let her past define her story.
5 CENTIMETERS PER SECOND 1-1 THE GREAT GATSBY
CATEGORY #3: ROMANCE WITH THE BEST IMPACT
For this section, I’m going to analyze their origins, delivery, and takeaways, and see which left the deepest emotional impact to form my final decision. So hang on to your hats, because this is going to be quite a long section.
Takaki and Akari first meet when she is introduced to his class as a transfer student, and a friendship sparks up, going beyond the classroom: which sees them walking across cherry blossom-covered petals, has them write letters to each other, and walking across a snowed-in town ending in a kiss. For a time, it is insinuated they are still writing letters to each other, but this action stops which eventually causes the relationship to fade into obscurity. Years pass, and Takaki still hasn’t gotten over her, while she is set to marry another man, recognizing her friendship with Takaki as part of an unrecoverable past. But for Takaki, this is a moment that he’ll obsess over for the rest of his life, and he spends the rest of his next few years in vain trying to recapture that feeling. This behaviour between the two leads is what drives 5 Centimeters Per Second, and the movie portrays – or at least tries to – their relationship as realistically as possible.
The beginning is cute and adorable, it shows them enjoying time with each other, with Tenmon’s piano interludes expressing its beauty and innocence, only to devolve into a depressing sideshow for Takaki as their distance increases. How bad it gets can only be expressed through the words of Masayoshi Yamazaki’s timeless ballad, One More Time, One More Chance. After the first third, their relationship meagerly sizzles into the limelight, culminating in the final section where Takaki sulks alone in his apartment, lamenting and wondering why things had to be the way they were – a sharp opposite to Akari, who takes charge of her life, with a bright future and being set to marry someone else – albeit briefly reminiscing about exchanging letters with the boy she once loved. By an act of God, the two of them meet each other at the same crossroads they walked as children, but owing to Takaki’s lack of motive, he basically surrenders his God-given answer to his prayers to see her again, for no reason whatsoever; realizing by this point their relationship is like a chain broken, unusable due to rust after years of neglect.
If that’s the case for this ill-fated duet, Jay and Daisy’s relationship features the former trying to fix that chain by any means possible, no matter the futility. They first lock eyes at a party in 1917, five years before the events of Fitzgerald’s setting. They fall in love with each other at first sight – and that’s that. But, being at the height of the First World War, Jay is sent into battle, and after being discharged from military service, he spends time studying at Oxford, and marginally keeps in touch with Daisy. His last letter to her, unfortunately, reaches her hands a day before her wedding to Tom, and once that’s settled, their romance comes to a standstill. It reignites some five years later, where Daisy visits Jay’s house and she is enthralled to see how life with him is, but they are in vain as their brief fling never again reaches the heights from before. Desperate, he tries to get her to renounce Tom, but she refuses, to both save her face, avoid Tom’s wrath and to be assured of her ongoing financial security; and Jay dies a violent death afterwards, leaving Daisy to forget about him, earning Nick’s ire.
The Great Gatsby’s love story runs different from the former, because given the setup, you already know it’s destined to fail, whereas the former teases you until the end with hope of a reunion. Although Jay is gentlemanly, loyal, and endearing, despite his shady connections is leagues above Tom in personality, and genuinely wants what’s best for Daisy, who knows that deep down a part of her still loves him, but pays no mind to that and chooses to stay with Tom for greed, even willing to tolerate his douchebaggery amidst it. Despite that, the chemistry is much more widespread than something like Takaki and Akari’s friendship, their bond is more linear, and the lead-up to their return is much more enthusiastic, but still their emotional connection remains very superficial (if not morally dangerous), never going outside of “Pretty boy meets pretty girl”.
That being said, I related a lot with how Takaki and Akari’s relationship, and his subsequent plight rocked my inner senses, because they was so similar to me in age, profession, and circumstances. How they first met each other was so touching, and quite real how they even developed feelings for each other. That of Jay Gatsby and Daisy, on the other hand, is nothing like me – we’re from different social statuses, professions, ages, and morals, outside of a few shared traits here and there. The love wasn’t as cultured, but there’s one thing that sets it apart from the former: they went somewhere with it at least. Yes, Gatsby dies in the end, from a gunshot borne of false witness and treachery, and the heartbreak of losing Daisy, but you can’t say that he didn’t touch the moon on his flight to the stars. The things depicted, I can’t help but be reminded of my own similar experience with a girl who I befriended in middle school, fell in love with, rekindled that too late (near the end of high school), and despite my best efforts to re-ignite that once-existing spark between us, it failed, leaving me to relive everything between us only within the deepest recesses of my memory.
That above scenario is something which, honestly, feels closer to Jay Gatsby’s sentimental story arc. His determination to win back Daisy against all odds really sheds light unto his character and the pain he feels before, during, and after that process – which he makes known to Nick, his newfound friend; whereas Takaki’s was too overdramatic and to a certain point, comes off harsh rather than bittersweet, such as him ghosting his girlfriend in the final arc due to unresolved inner turmoil. Furthermore, Gatsby’s romance eloquently depicted the lesson both stories try to ascertain: that sometimes it’s better to let the past be just that – a memory – for to dwell often on it will be detrimental to self, as evidenced with all the trouble he sparks just because of his desires. And for that, wholeheartedly, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby wins out with me over Makoto Shinkai’s 5 Centimeters Per Second in the romance category.
FINAL SCORE: 5 CENTIMETERS PER SECOND 1-2 THE GREAT GATSBY
The story of Takaki Tohno and Jay Gatsby’s descent into melancholy was quite thrilling to come across. Looking back at it, 5 Centimeters Per Second was an absolute bummer – not in a theatrical, but emotional sense. It doesn’t have a happy ending that Makoto Shinkai’s films are so known for today – compare Your Name to this and it’s like looking into a completely different world and experience. Similarly, The Great Gatsby ends on a somber note but everything about the titular character, the atmosphere, and his deepest desires were so articulately conveyed that here I am, eight years after graduating high school and I still have the final lines of that book brimming in my brain. That’s how deep it was for my twelfth-grader mind. I’ll even let you in on something: one post, Close Encounter With A Rukia Fangirl from 3 May 2021 was directly inspired by a quotation analysis essay I wrote while studying this book.
Sorry to cut this shorter than usual, but that’s as much as I can dive into the similarities for 5 Centimeters Per Second and The Great Gatsby. They are two emotional stories which centered around a life that, admittedly, I’m guilty of leading myself; maybe that’s the reason why these stories spoke so much to me.