I watched this film at Anime Expo 2016 Los Angeles. I'll try to keep my review as spoiler-less as possible.
The film holds true to all the expectations of a Makoto Shinkai production, from heartfelt smiles to crying the 5th time within the last 30 minutes. His signature metaphorical use of trains, the idea of a hopeless and distant love, and beautiful scenery really dive you emotionally into the story, even for how generic and simple it may seem.
The story is fairly simple to understand, and very easy to guess where the story will head while watching the film. It warrants a 7 simply because I felt a lack of surprise going through the film. Be this as it may, I am also a 4 year long film major, and having seen and analyzed film tropes in an educational environment, I am confident to say that I am more proficient at guessing most stories than your typical average Joe. However, this does not take away from my overall score which I shall highlight later.
As expected of a Makoto Shinkai film, the artwork is beautiful. The production quality is off the charts. The art in itself is enough to evoke tears, as it did for me during even the trailer. His choice of colors and use of movement and focus within the frame really help you pay attention to what you need to pay attention to, while also not skimping out and leaving out detail if your eyes do decide to stray, which I recommend you do while watching any Makoto Shinkai film for every blur, light flare, and particle floating along the screen really do add incredible amounts of emotion to the scene/screen. Among my friends we consider most Makoto Shinkai films as "5 Wallpapers per Second" and for good reason.
Granted I watched this film in an auditorium with hundreds of people, I can't give an accurate score as of writing this review. I don't know who did the music for the film, but during the Q&A Panel held with Shinkai, he mentioned that he messaged one of his favorite bands that he was working on a film, and wanted them to do the music, to which they said yes.
The music was done by the band RADWIMPS, a Japanese rock/alternative rock band. Some people have come to me asking whether or not this took away from the cinematic or emotional feel of the film, but in my opinion it helped in a way characterize the characters of Mitsuha and Taki. Rock music carries with it a sense of youth. Bringing that youthful feeling to the film's soundtrack helps to establish the sense of naivety to the characters and their interactions. It really helps establish the characters as teenagers who don't know or care about right from wrong, but rather would do what they feel in their heart is the right thing to do, which is exactly what motivates Mitsuha and Taki in their adventure.
I wouldn't say I have much of a complaint about main characters Taki and Mitsuha. We all can relate to the high school phase of our lives, it appeals to us because stories we read or watch in books or films set on characters that are going through this remind us of our own springtime of youth. Shinkai did a good job at portraying them and their relationships. My main gripe is that I feel they weren't explored enough to feel a strong sense of emotional attachment. Their lives, personalities, traits, habits, friends, lifestyles, etc are all explored in the first ~20 minutes, I personally felt that we only skimmed the surface of these characters and are forced to go further into the shallow end of a pool, only hoping that it gets deeper to actually swim around in this world of possibilities. I wanted to laugh, cry, and even relate more with the characters, but I felt that I only read about them in a story, or saw them in a film (which I did).
I wanted to feel they could have actually existed, but the film seems to be a bit too reliant on cliche tropes to incite certain emotions. The feeling I felt is similar to seeing characters smiling and laughing with each other, and having to individually accept that this is enough to establish their inner motivations, time spent together, individual goals, etc. I felt like it wasn't enough, and just had to accept that Taki and Mitsuha were the way they were. It felt sometimes that their actions were baseless and lacking a strong motivation to be deserving of the emotion the characters poured into their actions. As if acting on a limb to do something as insane as climbing a mountain alone. I will admit that this can be disputed, however, as they are still children/teenagers, and we all do weird things for no reason growing up.
As little as I felt I delved into the personalities of the characters, I did enjoy the film a lot. Shinkai's metaphorical use of trains just continuing to go along their routes that diverge in several ways really applies in this film, as much as it did in 5 Centimeters per Second. Everyone's lives diverge in different ways, things happen in dreams and are forgotten the next day, things happen in reality and are forgotten over a lifetime. I enjoyed Taki's and Mitsuha's struggles throughout the film to help each other, and as much as it made me well up tears in my eyes, I enjoyed his questioning of how much our memories make up who we are.