Takaki (Mizuhashi) and Akari (Kondou) are best friends in elementary school in the early 1990s. When Akari’s family moves away, the children keep in touch by letter, and Takaki decides to visit Akari by train. They spend fleeting hours together before he must leave for good. Years later, Takaki is in high school, where his classmate Kanae (Hanamura) falls in love with him. But Takaki seems unaware of her, and is frequently lost in the emails he’s always writing. It seems Akari has never really left him: he still dreams about her, and even thinks he catches sight of her on the street one day. Will they ever meet again?
An unrequited love story told in three parts, Shinkai’s anime shimmers with painterly tableaux, the narrative realism balanced by dreamlike visuals. The three parts, entitled “Cherry Blossoms”, “Cosmonaut” and “5 Centimeters per Second” softly link the themes of childhood love, loss and longing. The ending is one of aching beauty. Differing from the science-fiction of Shinkai’s past films, this award-winning work tackles themes of connection across distance, and the transience of youth. The title refers to the falling cherry blossoms that the children watch together. Transpiring like a melancholic reverie, Shinkai’s cinema is poetry set in motion.