The Garden of Words

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The Garden of Words DVD cover

DirectorMakoto Shinkai
StudioCoMix Wave Films
GenreRomance, Drama
Release year2013
Purchase DVDClick here to purchase from Amazon.

The Garden of Words is a 46-minute film that leaves an impression on you, despite its short length. Directed by former graphic designer Makoto Shinkai (who would later be known for Your Name), this movie ends up becoming one of the most picturesque anime titles I’ve ever seen in my life. Which makes it even more tragic when you’re feeling that the movie is missing a little something, but you can’t tell what it is.

 

A Rainy Summer

The Garden of Words anime movie

The Garden of Words begins with a narration by male protagonist Takao Akizuki, a 15-year old high school student with a troubled home life who aspires to be a shoemaker. During rainy days, he skips class to enjoy the sights at Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden (Tokyo, Japan).

The Garden of Words anime movie Yukari Yukino

There, he encounters a mysterious 27-year old woman (Yukari Yukino), who is skipping work and enjoying chocolate and beer. The encounter ends when Yukari notices the school crest on the boy’s jacket and leaves some parting words in the form of a tanka:

A faint clap of thunder
Clouded skies
Perhaps rain comes
If so, will you stay here with me?

The Garden of Words anime movie Takao Akizuki

After the initial encounter, Takao continues to skip class during rainy mornings, where he continues meeting Yukari. Through limited interactions, they get to know each other through small conversations and silent moments. But despite all this, they still retain their distance. They didn’t even ask about each other’s names. But on bright, sunny days, it’s business as usual for the two of them. Takao attends class as normal and Yukari works at her job.

The Garden of Words anime movie Takao Akizuki

But despite this, they enjoy each other’s company. It’s to the point where they both desire for rainy mornings to occur, just so they can meet up.

The Garden of Words anime movie

So by far the strongest point of The Garden of Words is its art direction. Holy mother of god, this movie looks fantastic. The reason for this is that Shinkai and his studio used real-life photographs of Shinjuku as the base for the environments. And of course, rotoscoping and CGI for more realistic movements and rain sequences. This movie is just an absolutely gorgeous work of art.

Another noticeable trait is that the dialogue is pretty sparse, save for a few conversations and soliloquys from our main characters. Therefore, you also have to pay attention to the small details in the scenes to get a sense of what’s really going on and what the characters are like.

For example, the reason why Yukari carries so much chocolate and beer is because she has a taste disorder and can only taste those things—which is clearly stated later on. However, you can infer that this taste disorder is stress-induced, as her sense of taste does get better later in the story as she spends more time with Takao. Another thing to note is that chocolate is considered “comfort food,” something sweet to improve your mood. People also tend to drink beer as a form of escapism because they’re depressed. It’s these little nuances that help carry the story.

 

A Garden of Escapism

Continuing off of the story’s subtext, Takao feels disconnected from his school life, thinking that no one would understand his passion for shoes. Even his elder brother believes that shoemaking was just a hobby. But to Takao, it’s his lifeline to a better life. Takao views Yukari as a working adult who had already found success, even noting that she represents “the very secrets of the world.” So he makes occasional glances at her (and her feet), finding his passion rekindled by desiring to make shoes for Yukari.

Sadly, Takao’s assumptions weren’t accurate. Yukari is a docile, lonely woman who just so happens to teach at Takao’s high school for a living. But she struggles to make ends meet and is unable to move forward. At school, her own students bully her due to a rumor, which was why she planned to move away and start over. Her own kindness turned her into a doorstep to others, and she had no willpower to even put up any fight.

Rain and shoes are two common motifs in the story. As opposed to rain usually being more “lonely” or “morose” in popular culture, the context of rain in The Garden of Words is “happiness” and “escape.” Shoes are representative of “walking forward.” Both Takao and Yukari feel like they’re at a dead end in their lives and are unable to move forward. So Takao desperately tries to strive for adulthood and “move forward” in a career he wanted, while Yukari wanted to escape her troubled life.

The Garden of Words anime movie Takao Akizuki and Yukari Yukino

Both Takao and Yukari found happiness at Shinjuku Gyoen on rainy days, in each other’s company. Despite Takao not knowing much about Yukari, he couldn’t help but find her mysterious charms alluring. And as summer goes by, he desired her company even more. He felt like this desire would prevent him from reaching adulthood, so he wanted to make shoes for Yukari for her troubles (whatever they may be).

And in Yukari’s case, she’s just happy to talk to someone. Her low self-esteem keeps her trapped in a world of monotony, even claiming she didn’t get any smarter since she was 15. But for someone to acknowledge her as this intelligent and beautiful woman, she gains the motivation to leave her past life behind and look to a better future.

Alas, this relationship wasn’t meant to be.

The two live in different worlds. Takao is a minor who was forced to grow up early because of his dull home life (and it’s implied his family was apathetic). Yukari is a young woman who wants to feel special for once and desires the willpower to make choices for the better. It’s a forbidden romance held back by their own personal baggage and even societal norms, due to the age gap.

But then the ending came… and I wasn’t sure if it made The Garden of Words worth sitting through… at first. It’s not bad or anything but… just wow.

With all that said, I think Makoto Shinkai managed to accomplish what he wanted with The Garden of Words. It’s an atmospheric movie where you need to pay close attention (without distractions, meaning ‘put away your damn cell phones, kiddies’) to get the most out of it. The movie portrays the traditional Japanese meaning of love between two people of different age groups, known as koi (恋). Koi is a selfish type of love, where both parties would feel lonely if they were not in each other’s company.

And indeed, this is what we’re seeing here. Takao and Yukari were both lonely people, but strongly desired to be in each other’s company. Even in a society where such an age difference is socially taboo, the movie doesn’t linger on this obvious elephant in the room for too long. Perhaps just the hope of being together will make it all worthwhile in the end, which in itself is a beautiful thing. Just one of those Romeo and Juliet type of scenarios.

This is not to say The Garden of Words isn’t flawed at all, though. The movie’s short length was a decision by Shinkai, who focused more on the actual content over the length of the content. Albeit, this is not an inherently bad thing—as I prefer a short well-told story over a long well-told story with some meaningless bullshit in it. Furthermore, the movie wasn’t made for movie theaters. It’s something that you “casually” view on computers, tablets and home theaters. From a marketing perspective, I don’t agree with this decision because even those short 46 minutes are worthy of being shown in theaters. As I mentioned earlier, this is not a movie that should be viewed casually. This is a movie you need to pay attention to in order to get the most out of it.

But… I did wish the movie was a bit longer and allowed us to get to know the characters more. We don’t really know that much about the personalities of Takao and Yukari outside of their home and school lives. I think we’re meant to assume that they’re both introverts who keep their problems bottled up inside themselves.

And I’m also aware that people may not like the ending as much. At first, I didn’t like it either because of its abruptness, bittersweet mood, and cruel tone. But during my second viewing, I realized this ending was actually brilliant. It took a chance and I think it succeeded at it.

The Garden of Words is a beautiful film with a beautiful message. And if that appeals to you, definitely check it out.

Oh, and before I forget…

The Garden of Words

$13.00
The Garden of Words
9.1

STORY

9/10

CHARACTERS

9/10

ART & ANIMATION

10/10

SOUNDTRACK

9/10

Pros

  • A realistic and mature take on a friendship between two age groups.
  • The story is entirely focused on the lives of the two protagonists and their relationship, meaning no pointless filler.
  • The realistic visual design is absolutely gorgeous and adds to the atmosphere.
  • The intentional symbols and motifs used throughout the movie, that serve to tell a deeper story.
  • A pleasant piano soundtrack.

Cons

  • Short length.
  • Depending on how you view it, the ending may not satisfy.
  • Characterizations fall a bit short once you realize you don't know that much about the main characters.
  • This is not the kind of movie that you 'turn your brain off' to. You NEED to pay attention in order to gain an appreciation for it.
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