The internet offers a plethora of reviews about the film, so there’s little point in adding one more to their number. (Links to some of these reviews and other relevant articles are available at the end of this entry.) With that in mind, I’ve decided to concentrate on reviewing the physical product – i.e., the contents of the R2 LE boxset – rather than critique the film itself, although I may touch on certain elements such as music and visual effects in an incidental manner. For the time being, I’ll keep most of my thoughts about the film in reserve for a possible future post.
But I’m prepared to say this now: I think this film is bloody awesome. Quite possibly Shinkai’s best film to date, both in terms of technical excellence and storytelling genius.
The slipcase (top and above) is made of thin coated cardboard with an open side for the DVD cases to slide in and out of. There’s nothing remarkable about the spine: just the name of the film (秒速５センチメートル) in Japanese script. No fancy artbox for this Japanese release, I’m afraid – and in any case, that’s something the Yanks generally do best. (Unfortunately, the single-disc US release didn’t call for an artbox, so we’re in the same boat whichever side of the Pacific our copies were made in.)
Two separate cases hold the boxset’s three discs. One case (on the left in the image below) houses the main DVD, while the other case (on the right) holds the bonus DVD and soundtrack CD.
The bonus DVD has a reversible cover (image below), the front panel of which was used for ADV’s US (R1) DVD jacket and for the covers of the regular-edition DVDs released in Taiwan and Hong Kong. Of all the promotional images related to Byousoku 5 Centimeter, this one (on the right in the image below) is my absolute favourite.
The reverse side of the main DVD jacket (not shown here) bears a cover-style illustration on one panel and summaries of the three parts of the film on the other panel. This means that it could probably be used as a reversible cover, although the overlapping images in the centre of the spread (where the spine would be) suggest otherwise.
The image above shows the main DVD in its case, together with an information booklet and a filmstrip (more on these items later).
The main DVD contains all three parts of the film: Oukashou, Cosmonaut, and Byousoku 5 Centimeter. Sub-menus allow viewers to jump to any of the three parts or play specific chapters.
Most of the special features are carried on the bonus DVD, although the main disc does have a few treats of its own: two trailers and an interview with writer-director Shinkai Makoto.
Set-up options are as basic as they come: Dolby Digital 4.0 surround or 2.0 stereo, Japanese subtitles on or off. As is the case with most R2 DVDs, the disc contains no English subtitles.
The second disc holds most of the boxset’s special features. First among these is a complete storyboard version of the film which is essentially a slideshow of Shinkai’s hand-drawn illustrations accompanied by readings from the screenplay. We also have the original version of Oukashou that was streamed on Yahoo! Japan in February 2007 (less than a month before the full-length film’s premiere) and a promotional video featuring the song One more time, One more chance.
The DVD also contains video interviews with the four main cast members: Mizuhashi Kenji (Takaki), Kondou Yoshimi (young Akari), Hanamura Satomi (Kanae), and Onoue Ayaka (older Akari). I’ve included a screencap of the interviews sub-menu (image above) because I really like the way it was composed: four vertically-oriented panels with images of the main characters and their names, together with the names of their respective seiyuu; with the whole lot set against a rich, beautiful sunset. Far superior to the plain bulleted lists one normally finds in DVD menus.
(Incidentally, I think Akari looks incredibly beautiful in the fourth panel. Yes, I know most of her face isn’t visible, but what I can see has a certain delicacy to it that never fails to catch my attention. Whenever I look at this menu, my eyes instantly flick towards that panel and it’s a hard struggle to make them move elsewhere.)
Last on the list is a “photo movie” – a slideshow featuring photographs of the actual locations that were used as a basis for scenes depicted in the film, followed by snapshots showing various stages of the film’s production.
The third disc is an audio CD containing the background music used in Byousoku 5 Centimeter. It doesn’t include the full version of One more time, One more chance, the song that was played during the film’s ending scenes, although a “piano version” (without lyrics) is included as a bonus track.
Tenmon‘s rich, gentle pieces are wonderfully easy to listen to – equally well suited for contemplative walks and lazy afternoons spent ensconced in a comfortable armchair. (I have the whole soundtrack on my iPod for just such occasions.) Of the 11 tracks on the CD, my personal favourites are 想い出は遠くの日々 (track 2), 空と海の詩 (track 8), and “End Theme” (track 10). “End Theme” probably comes first in my mind, since I feel as if the essence of the film were distilled into this one beautiful piece.
力ナエの気持ち (track 6) also deserves a special mention. The use of a guitar sets this track apart from the others – many of which make good use of the piano – and gives it a certain rustic charm.
For a collector, this little item is probably the highlight of the R2 LE boxset. There’s no indication as to whether these snippets were taken from a special reel (say, the one used for opening night), but it’s a wonderful piece of anime memorabilia all the same.
My filmstrip comes from approximately twelve minutes into the film, when Takaki’s train was stuck at Kuki station. Click on the image above to get an enlarged version; you’ll see the station name in hiragana on one of the pillars visible through the train’s open door. (The scene – along with the name sign – is reversed because I mistakenly shot this image from the back of the strip.) A screencap of the original scene is shown below.
I count myself lucky to have received a snippet with one of the main characters in a prominent position, although when it comes to the luck of the draw, a chosen few were even more fortunate. Case in point: the lucky chap who snagged the film’s memorable “station reunion” scene and then auctioned it off on Yahoo! Japan for the equivalent of US$300 (several times the original list price of the entire boxset). If I’d had his good fortune, I don’t think I could have parted with the strip for any amount of money.
(Well, maybe not any amount of money. But it would take much, much more than a measly three Franklins to prise my fingers away from that treasure.)
Okay, time for a little weekend project. Since a couple of other bloggers have also written about the filmstrips that came with their box sets, I thought it might be an entertaining exercise to catalogue as many of them as I can find and arrange the filmstrips in proper chronological order. Think of it as an attempt to virtually reassemble the original film reel.
Now behold the list! Laughably short, I know – but with a billion-odd anime blogs on the ‘net it’s hardly a viable option for me to browse through each of them in the hope of stumbling across a post that just happens to have a photograph of the owner’s filmstrip. (Assuming that he even has one.) So these are the strips I’ve managed to pin down so far. Leads to photos and descriptions of other strips not listed below are, of course, highly appreciated; use the comment box to contribute.
All timestamps are approximate.
12:26 = Mine! (details above)
15:13 = Kurogane
15:47 = Xcomp
20:09 = Yahoo! Auctions Japan (indirectly referenced through Xcomp)
29:30 = Yahoo! Auctions Japan (Note: The link may become inactive when the auction closes.)
29:36 = Yahoo! Auctions Japan (Note: The link may become inactive when the auction closes.)
29:45 = Maltos (referenced through a comment to this post – see below)
31:10 = commenter on Xcomp
59:23 = unidentified forum (indirectly referenced through Xcomp)
The main DVD case contains a richly illustrated 20-page booklet that offers some very colourful behind-the-scenes glimpses at the creative process that ultimately led to the film’s 2007 debut. It’s unfortunate that my Japanese isn’t nearly good enough for me to understand everything – or even more than half of what’s written in the booklet – but I’ve found that a lot can be gained from just looking at the images, doing one’s best to absorb as much as possible from the written commentary (brush up on your kanji for this one!), and figuring out some small portion of the rest purely from context.
THE LAST WORD
This is the first time I ordered the original Japanese version of a DVD release, instead of a version modified and repackaged for the Anglophone market. I suppose the experience was something of a mixed bag. On the one hand, trying to follow hours of untranslated dialogue (not just in the film but in the interviews and other extras) without English subtitles to lean on and ploughing one’s way through acres of Japanese script was very challenging, to say the least. On the other, the experience felt purer, more immediate and very different from what it would have been in the presence of an intermediary. And of course, the challenge of appreciating this magnificent film in its native element only added to my enthusiasm as a student of the Japanese language, giving me a tantalising glimpse of what could be mine after my efforts have progressed far enough. It’s hard to think of something that could serve as a more effective motivator than the promise of having the fruits of another nation’s culture come well within one’s reach.
The extras rate a solid ten out of ten. Everything deserves high marks, from the video extras to the soundtrack and the information booklet. But as an inveterate collector, I must confess that the jewel of the boxset for me was that tiny filmstrip. While it probably doesn’t have much in the way of pecuniary value, the thrill of holding a tangible memento of this great film is something that not even an illustration book or film poster can induce.
Still, there’s the unavoidable matter of the price tag to consider. It’s true that at 6,990 yen (approximately US$66), the tag is a little on the high side and more than double the US$29.98 list price of the US version. Shipping costs will also be much higher for North American residents, many of whom will probably pay as little as nothing for postage if they order the US release. Nevertheless, the R2 boxset offers so much more in terms of special features and physical extras that I find the premium well justified. The soundtrack alone is easily worth an extra ten dollars or so, and it’s not easy to put a value on the filmstrip.
All the same, first-time viewers with little or no background in Japanese are advised to pick up a copy of ADV’s Region 1 (US) version instead. The film isn’t particularly dialogue-heavy, but there’s a good deal of narration involved so there’s no getting around the need for a set of solid English subtitles.