5 Centimeters Per Second – Special Edition Japan DVD Set (review)

Today the spotlight falls on the limited-edition Region 2 DVD boxset of Shinkai Makoto‘s 2007 film Byousoku 5 Centimeter.

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.

PACKAGING

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.

MAIN DVD

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.

EXTRAS

Bonus DVD

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.

Soundtrack

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.

Filmstrip

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)

Information Booklet

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.

**********

LINKS
Anime News Network – DVD review by Theron Martin / encyclopedia entry on the film
Anime on DVD (review)
Rotten Tomatoes (page with links to reviews)
Wikipedia (encyclopedia entry)

25 Responses

  1. Well done, spotting the reversible covers! I saw the illustrations opening both discs but never thought they could be used as alternative covers! I think I like the one with Kanae in it too. Not too dark and not too bright, just sitting in between in the winter night scene and the daytime overhead shot of the city.

    Glad you got a good film cut, both a nice detailed background and the main character in the shot. I was missing a good background ^^;

  2. @Xcomp: Thanks, I’m really pleased with that filmstrip too. But I believe your luck was better than mine – as I recall, Takaki’s face is clearly visible on yours.

    Speaking of the reversible cover, I remember acquiring a B5Cm chirashi with that same image about a year ago (I even posted pictures of it on this blog). I should remember to take a good photograph of that chirashi and put it up in my next post.

  3. Haha, not bad getting that cut. Mine was just of the train… and it was dark as well. I was kinda disappointed to get that actually…

    BTW, did you just bought it or…?

  4. […] Anime fan Diego spotted something interesting about the Japanese 5 Centimetres per Second LE DVD. It appears the bonus discs case has alternative […]

  5. On the other hand, I got my (legal) copy of the R1 for a paltry 1,300. Ah, the joys (and sorrows – mostly the latter) of credit card-less-ness.

  6. Actually, having checked the price at Amazon.jp, I seriously wish I’d just gotten the JP and US releases, considering the limited ed. one is what, a little over twice the price without shipping?

  7. @Kurogane: I’ve had the boxset for months, but I was really busy with work when it first arrived so I’ve only gotten around to reviewing it now. As for your filmstrip, I actually like the light-and-shadow composition of that scene (and the falling snow adds to the perception of depth, giving it an added element of realism).

    I’m more worried about people who might’ve gotten shots of a brick wall or something. I hope the manufacturers weeded out some of the really blank scenes before they put the strips in the boxes.

    @Zeroblade: P1,300 sounds very reasonable – does that include postage? And where did you order it from? I have my eye on a certain anime DVD that’s currently only available on Amazon US and I’d rather not pay $40 just for shipping.

    At any rate, congratulations on getting the film. This is one treasure that deserves a place in every DVD collection.

  8. The filmstrip i got was the same shots of the arrow in the target right at the beginning of Cosmonaut. You were really lucky to get a shot of the main character! At first i was slightly disappointed but now i’m just pretty happy that i own a collectors piece like it.

  9. @Maltos: Thanks for replying. I’m not certain if the scene you are referring to is the one at 29:45 (spot on the moment when Takaki’s arrow strikes the target), which is the timestamp I used in my list. Feel free to correct me if I’m wrong!

  10. Hey guys!
    I’ve got just one little question: When will this masterpiece of Shinkai Makoto be available in europe (especially in Austria or Germany)? Does anybody know it?
    Please, it’s frustrating enough to live at the piece of earth which is always the last one to be concerned in conection to new anime.

  11. @Maurice Viertauer: I’m afraid I don’t have any information on when B5Cm is scheduled for release in Europe. I checked the German, French and British sites of Amazon (using the search term “shinkai”) but I couldn’t find any listing for this film apart from on the British site (and even then it’s only available as a special-order item). Even Amazon US is fresh out of copies (B5Cm bears a “This item has been discontinued by the manufacturer” tag). Try other US-based retailers – they might still have copies on hand.

    Sorry I couldn’t be more helpful. If it’s any consolation, my corner of the world isn’t much of an anime paradise either (bootlegs don’t count, of course). Nearly every disc in my video collection had to be imported from somewhere else. (T_T)

  12. […] (I swear, I had the OST on repeat for a month before my DVD came). My only regret? Not getting the special edition. Too bad I’m not fluent enough in moonspeak cause the set looks […]

  13. I really like this movie!! I’ve been searching amazon.com for a similar release (with DVD extras and soundtrack and illustration booklet) but haven’t found any that have English subtitles. Would anyone know whether they have released a similar boxset with English subtitles? My current level of Japanese won’t let me appreciate the movie as much without it.. yet I quite like the cover to be in Japanese rather than English! (since I could read it..)

    Congrats in getting such a great collectible!

  14. @Felix: The US version (by ADV) appears to be out of print, and in any case it was a pretty basic single-volume release – no extra discs, no bonus items. Your best bet would be the limited-edition boxset released in Hong Kong (DVD Region Code 3), which has English subtitles (according to YesAsia) and comes with a bonus DVD. It also has an information booklet (word of caution: my guess is this one’s probably in Cantonese) and four postcards, but no filmstrip. In any case, when it comes to features and format it’s probably the closest you can get to the Japanese version while still benefitting from English subtitles.

    I haven’t seen the Hong Kong set myself, though, so I can’t vouch for the quality of the subtitling work. Their primary target is the Cantonese-speaking local market and the English subtitles were likely a secondary concern to the manufacturers. They might be professionally made, or they could be little better than a machine translation, so be careful.

  15. Thanks for all the details about the dvd. Can you tell me where you bought your dvd set?

  16. @Pat: I ordered my copy from Amazon Japan sometime last year. Based on the updated product listing, it seems that they’re completely sold out (although the box set is still available from resellers).

  17. i want this DVD… T.T

  18. i envy you, you are so lucky

  19. So for the Japanese box set, the subtitles are only in Japanese (including interviews and whatnot)?
    It’s too bad for those of us who can’t read Japanese to have to buy the US version just to get English subtitles (in the movie).
    … Wait, does this mean I’ll never know what was said in the commentaries? Because I don’t think the US version has any bonuses. Just the episodes.

    • I’m afraid I don’t have a copy of the US release – can’t comment on whether it includes any bonus material.

      In any case, I’m not certain whether you are referring to 5 Cm per Second, as it consists of just one film (in three parts); there are no “episodes” as such. If you are, then yes, regrettably the Japanese box set only has Japanese language options (no English dub or subtitles).

  20. A little late, but I finally got my set! My filmstrip is at 12:50, a truck is waiting at a railroad crossing for Takaki’s train to pass – http://i50.tinypic.com/21eddw7.jpg

    • Good catch, mate!

      I’m pleasantly surprised to see that the LE box set is still available. I hope it didn’t cost you an arm and a leg!

      Cheers.

  21. […] just the main feature. If Sentai had put together a high-end version – perhaps similar to the Japanese box set of Shinkai’s 5 Centimeters Per Second with soundtrack, informative booklet, and original filmstrip – I’d be more than happy […]

  22. So cool that you have it!🙂

  23. Does anyone have a copy of this box set or just the soundtrack that they’d be interested in selling?

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