Do you want to watch something different from the classic love, romance, happy/sad ending story? Then you should definitely watch a Makoto Shinkai film. What I admire most in Makoto Shinkai’s works is that, whilst listed as romance stories, they are not developed in a typical fashion. There’s always a complex, endless stream of visual context tangled with deep metaphors and conversations about essential aspects of life like human relationships, growth to adulthood, self-discovery. Mostly The Garden of Words is described as a forbidden romance story but there’s so much more into it.
Japan’s summer rainy season has started. Takao Akizuki skipped class to enjoy the rain and sights in Shinjuku Garden, where he meets a mysterious woman, Yukari Yukino. As the days go by, without arranging time or day but always when it rains, the two still keep meeting in the garden, under the same shed. A strong bond started to develop.
The film has a unique perspective and focuses in the relationship between Takao and Yukino, starting with their meeting in the garden. The romantic development is classic. A man and a woman, a life full of problems; they meet, they talk, they fall in love. At the start, it felt like a casual/platonic relationship, mostly because of their difference in age, but the greatness in The Garden of Words is in its dialogue; that simple, typical, some might say casual, dialogue. From these few conversations and its short narrations, the film gives an insight into each character’s life and how slowly but drastically changed and how their relationship also changed when they started opening up. Takao confessed his dream to making a living as a shoe designer. Yukino in return uses shoes as a metaphor to tell Takao that she has troubles in her job and tries to find her ‘steps’ again. The film, aside from the romance development, captures elegantly those simple moments, those simple narrations with images and conveys them into emotions so that you can understand their situation. Shortly after the summer break, Takao learns that Yukino was a teacher at his school. That turned into an expected, melodramatic ending when Takao confesses his feelings to Yukino but she turns him down, reminding him their age difference. After Takao, disappointed, leaves the apartment, Yukino chases after him. In a surge of emotions and rage by Takao, clearly frustrated with the way things turned out, Yukino embraces him and reveals to him that the time they spent together saved her.
Art & Music
Like all Shinkai’s works, Comix Wave handled the animation. Kenichi Tsuchiya was the animation director and was responsible for character design, while Hiroshi Takiguchi was the art director. The background and environment art, coloring, animation, are totally amazing. CGI was used to facilitate the realistic appearance of the film’s rain sequences. Half of the background scenery was used from real photographs taken in the Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden. The characters are drawn with less detail but they are convincing and well-made. If you want to watch a movie to admire the potential of environment artwork, just watch a Shinkai film.
In previous Shinkai’s films, the music was produced by Tenmon, but in The Garden of Words, the music was composed by Daisuke Kashiwa, a fan of Makoto Shinkai. A classic piano-violin is the main background music and is appropriate and a delightful accompaniment to the scenery. The theme song ‘Rain’, a popular song back in 1988, was written and composed by Senri Oe. The song was remade for the film in 2013 and sung by Motohiro Hata.
Themes & Trivia
The film has multiple themes and different interpretations. Starting with the ‘rain’ element, rain symbolizes ‘sadness’ and ‘loneliness’ in our culture. Rain and this interpretation is the central element of the film, but for Takao and Yukino it also represents a means of ‘escape’ and a sort of ‘comfort’. In an interview, Shinkai said he created the film with the hope of cheering up people who feel lonely or incomplete in their social relations. However, he made a point that ‘this movie doesn’t treat loneliness as something that must be fixed’. Another theme of the film and as Shinkai said: it emphasizes in the original meaning of love ‘Koi’- longing for someone in solitude-. During the era of the Manyoshu the word ‘love’ (Koi) was written as ‘lonely sadness’. Last but not least, the film explores the classic Shinkai theme of ‘unrequited love’ and ‘distance/difference’.
Some interesting metaphors in the film are the use of ‘shoes’ that represent ‘life’. Yukino learns to ‘walk again’ and Takao finds his ‘means of escape’. The beer and chocolate are used as well as a metaphor for Yukino’s mental health, as both are considered as ‘mood-improving’.
Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden
Shinkai modeled the garden in the film to match Shinjuku Garden. Having lived for 10 years there, he selected Shinjuku as the location for his film because he wanted to share the peace and harmony of his favorite locations in Japan with the hope that it would encourage people to visit. Following an earthquake in March 2011, he was worried it could be destroyed and wanted to preserve it through his film.
Tanka/ Man’yōshū poetry
The Man’yōshū is the oldest extant collection of Japanese poetry, compiled sometime in AD 759 during the Nara period. The anthology is one of the most revered of Japan’s poetic compilations. Tanka is a ‘short poem’. The tanka used by Yukino at their initial meeting is from Man’yōshū, Book 11, verse 2,513 and the response from Takao is verse 2,514.
Makoto Shinkai is a brilliant director. The artwork and environment animation are flawless, splendid, delightful. Shinkai is my favorite in that aspect. He uses lively colors and with each scene the coloring could turn the entire atmosphere from something dazzling to something almost depressing. The character development was surprisingly good and I mean, not only in artwork but more in character. Even though it’s just 46-minutes long, the movie lets you understand their personalities and as well the mental/emotional state of each character in such a short time and passes on you that ‘loneliness’ feeling they both had. The plot was great, believable and, I suppose for some, even relatable. There aren’t many movies that deal with age difference and especially that found between a student and an older woman. The story is told elegantly for nothing is irrelevant or trivial. The only thing I didn’t like was the ending. The classic ending of ‘unrequited love’ is just another of Shinkai’s traits as well (at least most of his previous films had that theme) and that emotion-rage exaggeration from Takao was awkward for me, meaning: Shinkai has proven, with his previous films, the ability to drive emotion without much of a melodrama, so I count this as a small misstep on his part. And maybe that’s just me being greedy but I think it wouldn’t hurt an extra 20-25 minutes to develop the characters and the story with more details.
‘A faint clap of thunder, even if rain comes or not, I will stay here, Together with you’
- Unique/Great story
- Strong messages/ nice quotes
- Amazing Environment artwork
- Expected ending (mostly cause is a Shinkai film)
- Emotion-rage of Takao
The Garden of Words is not a simple romance movie. It gives us with many themes to ponder on: how people do not mature properly or elegantly as we think; Love can be found anywhere, knows no boundaries but doesn’t always work in our favor; And the hardest lesson of them all: it’s not easy growing up.
All things considered, The Garden of Words is a great movie. Although it is not his best, it will definitely leave an impression on you. I’m totally amazed (as always with Shinkai) with the beautiful environment artwork. It was his best work in that aspect, and the story which unfolded elegantly in just a short time.
The Garden of Words