Sound & Colour: Masayoshi Yamasaki’s ‘One more time, One more chance’ in Makoto Shinkai’s ‘5 Centimeters Per Second’
Sound & Colour is a new column where we talk about memorable pairings of music and film. Think “Ride Of The Valkyries” in ‘Apocalypse Now’, and “Mrs Robinson” in ‘The Graduate’. It’s also an excuse for Matt to write about music.
(Spoilers for ‘5 Centimeters per Second’)
Other than having to move abroad for work or studies, long-distance relationships most likely aren’t a reality Singaporeans have to grapple with. That was, at least, until the two months-long circuit breaker, forcing lovebirds to communicate exclusively through screens.
Yet, as the countless nauseating couple photos on Instagram the moment all this blows over will show, physical separation isn’t necessarily what would ultimately incapacitate relationships. If anything, physical gaps are probably the easiest to traverse compared to emotional distance. Makoto Shinkai’s animated feature 5 Centimeters per Second 秒速5センチメートル looks to showcase this latter distance.
Told over three parts, the hour-long film centers around youths Takaki, Akari and Kanae. In the first part, elementary school students Takaki and Akari develop a young romance cut short by having to move away from each other. The second part follows Kanae, a senior high student, struggling with her feelings for the now teenage Takaki. The film’s last chapter sees Takaki and Akari, now both well into their 20s, looking back at their separation.
The medium of animation allows storytellers to let their imaginations loose and push boundaries on what is and isn’t possible. Animation doesn’t necessarily have to be the medium to tell a story about a long-distance relationship – especially with the painstaking process behind crafting it. Yet, 5 Centimeters not only nails the storytelling but also deems animation to be necessary for its themes.
Through awe-inspiring animation work, Shinkai’s Japan shimmers in an enchanting afterglow, particularly highlighting the majesty of the country’s four seasons. Its magical realism not only lays the groundwork for capturing the overwhelming emotions that come with such a tale, but also brings it front and centre. With the film taking place between the 1990s and 2008, there is, perhaps, no other popular hit during this period that could match the film’s intensity better than its closing song.
The Music – Masayoshi Yamazaki’s “One more time, One more chance”
Masayoshi Yamazaki is a Japanese singer-songwriter who made his debut in 1995 with single “Illuminated By The Moonlight” , with marketing hailing him as “Greater than a genius” (「天才より凄いヤツ」). While he never truly met those sky- high expectations in hindsight, Yamazaki was still popular enough during the mid-90s to star in the 1997 film Tsuki to Kyabetsu 月とキャベツ. The film also happened to feature his most enduring hit, “One more time, One more chance”, which charted on the Oricon weekly singles charts for a whopping 24 weeks in 1997.
The song and its accompanying music video is perhaps one of the few pieces of media out there that could be as heartbreaking as 5 Centimeters. A long-standing rumour behind the song is how it is dedicated to a girlfriend who lost her life in the 1995 Kobe Earthquake. However, the musician’s biography notes that “One more time” was written as early as 1993.
Looking to link the guitar-led ballad to a palpable, unmistakable tragedy might not be surprising though. Even without understanding the lyrics, the song mercilessly tugs at the heartstrings. Its simple composition of gentle guitar plucks draws the listener into an unparalleled sense of intimacy, before Yamasaki shreds himself open with a spontaneous chorus that desperately yearns for belonging. This is made even more poignant with how almost every performance rings out as if he is on the verge of tears.
While Yamasaki would never again reach the same mainstream heights, “One more time” is in every sense of the term, a once-in-a-career song. Still touring with a steady flow of albums, most of his discography consists of easy-going sing-alongs. Even his mellower cuts never reached the emotional intensity of his breakout hit – simply because there doesn’t seem to be a reason to. “One more time” is just as intense, painful, and unmatchable as everyone’s first heartbreak.
The Sequence(s) in Question
As its posters suggest, 5 Centimeters is a collection of three short stories about distance (speed multiplied by time is distance), which Shinkai illustrates through gorgeously crafted wide-open landscapes. The number five also happens to be a cruel wordplay particularly with 5 Yen coins (pronounced “go-yen” in Japanese) being a homonym for “fate”, “destiny” and “relationship”.
The first part of the film goes through the salad days of Takaki and Akari. Snippets of “One more time” are heard throughout, melding together in the background with how Shinkai uses nature and the changing seasons to illustrate time and fate.
Early on with both enjoying the cherry blossoms, Akari introduces to Takaki the central idea that blossoms fall at five centimeters per second, before promising each other to enjoy the next spring together. That promise also happens to start the timer on their time together. Already in a long-distance relationship, Takaki finds out that he will soon have to move to the other side of the country. He decides to visit Akari one last time before their distance grows further apart.
However, it would seem like nature itself is preventing their meeting. Despite facing countless delays due to the bitter snow and even having a handwritten letter blown away by the howling winds, Takaki soldiers on. At one point, Takaki takes off his watch, symbolically rejecting time as a factor in stopping him. And that does work. Akari waited at the station despite Takaki being hours late. It is here where a piano-driven “One more time” infiltrates into their lives, a version of what would turn out to be deceivingly warm – much like how each felt that night.
On their way to a shed to spend the night, they share their first kiss underneath a withered tree. Both have different reasons and takeaways. Takaki imagines themselves in spring, with snow replaced by cherry blossoms. While he has doubts that their relationship cannot continue, Akari’s warmth was more than enough to convince him to disregard his fears and carry on hoping.
Akari, however, is all too aware of their surrounding winter and that this is their end. She says goodbye with a kiss and prepares for the long, arduous cold. It was at that moment when their emotions started moving five centimetres per second apart from each other.
Fast forward to the film’s concluding chapter with both characters now young adults. Akari is engaged and has fully moved on, while Takaki is still dogged by what could have been, refusing to accept that their bond could only be temporary. He eventually decides to heal, taking the first step by quitting his job.
He walks into a convenience store and hears “One more time” playing through the airy speakers. Both characters start monologuing, seemingly having had the same dream of their last night together. Despite emotionally moving as far apart as possible, both still carry the love for each other in their own ways.
The film’s theme song finally opens its details up and finds itself front and centre. The ending sequence presents a montage of the distance they have travelled away from each other. Smashing in with its chorus, the song’s lyrics really lay it on thick with how it correlates to Takaki’s point of view. Yamasaki croons about searching everywhere for just a sight of his lover, and doing anything to confess his feelings one last time to her.
It is also with this sequence where we get a glimpse of Akari’s journey. Their separation wasn’t easy on her as well, with her holding on almost as distressingly as Takaki until she just couldn’t bear it anymore. All this punctuated by Yamasaki’s wavering voice and bated gasps are bound to turn on the waterworks.
The film and song ends with Takaki and Akari seemingly meeting at the same train intersection under the same cherry blossoms they promised to be at so many years ago. With a feeling that Akari recognised him as well, he turns around to catch a glance but his view is blocked by speeding trains. The trains eventually pass and Akari is nowhere to be seen. Instead of chasing after her, Takaki smiles and seemingly begins his life anew.
Bringing it all back home
Shinkai shared in an interview that the film wasn’t made with “One more time” in mind. Yet, it seemed to be a natural fit – right down to the lyrics about intersections and love being compared to seasons. The beauty of the song’s use not only comes with how it’s appropriate to the film’s timeline and themes, but also with how it inadvertently subverts a longstanding cliche in songs about love.
There have been a ton that have used distance to showcase the depths of one’s love. Hits such as Vanessa Carlton’s “A Thousand Miles” and The Proclaimers’ “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)” come to mind. These songs are undoubtedly of the peachy variety, slathering themselves in grand metaphors to highlight sweet emotions. However, miles or even something similarly tangible and high-flung being what could only possibly keep love back was something Takaki (and probably a lot of boys) understood.
This becomes especially poignant with how the ending sequence is kickstarted by Takaki hearing “One more time” over the radio. Nature and time had always conspired to keep him apart from Akari but for that one magical yet seemingly mundane moment, the melody rings out like a much needed memory. As he begins his life ahead, it was only then when the track – faintly heard in his last memories with Akari – finally made sense to him. No matter how fast or far anyone runs, there are just some distances that cannot be reached.
The Japanese’s love for impermanence, or “Mono no aware”, is gracefully showcased throughout, such as with the use of trains and the changing seasons, and especially with Takaki’s realisation by the film’s end.
Much like the cherry blossoms the pair are so fond of, moments have to fall, expire, and wanting of ‘one more chance’ to be beautiful. The falling petals and the pair’s distance – both moving at five centimeters per second – were always going to be something temporary. The falling snow will eventually pass too, and so will Takaki’s cold loneliness only if he embraces both spring and winter.
The deep, bottomless sadness and sorrow of “One more time” is Takaki doing just that – one last cheers to mourn and celebrate how there will never be another time or another chance. He realises that the snow is just as beautiful as the blossoms.
This becomes peculiarly fitting when “One more time” is compared against Yamasaki’s discography. It’s a once-in-a-career masterpiece that shatters the language barrier to present one hell of an emotional stinger. It’s such a heartbreaker that fans had to make up a phony story behind the song to process just how anyone could come up with something so raw and piercing.
Take away its beautiful backdrop and 5 Centimeters can be a painfully relatable story for many. Perhaps, at some points in our lives, we have been Takaki, Akari, Kanae, or even all three. Yet, no matter the role we took or might take, the film and its theme song are poignant reminders that there will always be beauty to be found as long as we allow ourselves to feel everything that life throws at us.
That is, of course, easier said than done. But I guess that’s what music and films are around for.
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