Using a sleepy Saturday afternoon I decided to watch a rather short film written and directed by Makoto Shinkai. Keeping true to his animation weather-heavy style, it turned out to be one of the more interesting takes I have seen from him. What starts out as a seeming romanceish film about a boy who has a tendency to skip class, to me, became something quite complex. With vibrant camera pans, brilliant rain effects, and crisp animation, let us take a closer look at what exactly was packed into the 45 minutes of The Garden of Words.
The story follows 15-year-old Takao Akizuki, a slacker of school but surprisingly hard worker when it comes to his passion. Using the excuse of rain to miss first period, he spends every dreary morning in a garden at Shinjuku Gyoen. With his head always stuck in his sketchbook he uses the time to work on designs for shoes, his dream to shed the idea of office work and become a shoemaker. This concept at first was a little silly to me but as I had time to sit and think on it I think it’s quite charming and novel idea. To think in modern 2010 Japan there would be a kid that’s pure passion in life is to make shoes, I rather like the idea.
Or he just has a massive foot fetish, how the movie plays out I think it might be the latter.
One day however as Takao finds shelter at his typical place he finds there is someone already there, an older woman, drinking a chocolate beer, reading. Rainy day in and out he returns to the garden to see her, reading, drinking, seemingly shedding her adult responsibilities. Over time, Takao starts to confide in the woman, talking about his dreams and passions, discussing how what he truly wants in life doesn’t really stand up to modern standards.
Slowly but surely the woman also opens up, as we learn her name is Yukari Yukino, a 27-year-old teacher who also struggled with the stresses of bullying, though this remains unknown to Takao as he finally musters up the courage to make a shoe for her, measuring every inch of her foot much like a tailor would a suit.
It is that this moment the series shifts into what I wouldn’t call a romance but a rather dull drama. The overall story for The Garden of Words is two people, victims of circumstances that made them too terrified to move on, confiding in one another finding that courage. To take responsibility for their own lives due to the meeting of one another. As far as stories go it isn’t a bad one, but I would hardly call it good. It seems awkward in some moments, and forced, much as Makoto does from time to time. It doesn’t help I was watching this with my girlfriend, who is not that into anime and couldn’t get over the fact underlying love narrative between the 15 and 27-year-old.
Granted I personally never really felt that way.
Where The Garden of Words shines, is of course where all Makoto films shine. Where the script was rather lacking and generally meh, The Garden of Words animation and angeling is fanfuckingtastic. The camera pans of the garden and certain city scapes are mesmerizing in detail, of each raindrop, each leaf, the whole garden feels alive, vibrant, a place where the two of them own and no one could touch them. Being scored by Daisuke Kashiwa the sound is always fitting and well done, I never had an issue with sound when it comes to films under the direction of Makoto other than Weathering With You. Generic Japanese rock alt in the middle of what is supposed to be a heartfelt moment, not the best choice.
Granted ‘A Silent Voice’ opened up with My Generation by The Who and it was fucking great so what do I know?
All and all I feel The Garden of Words was a fine film, its Makoto, Shinkai, lives up to his quality of direction, but falls to his lack of storytelling. So if you are in the mood for a bit awkward, but stunning 40 min flick, give it a go, hopefully, one will get more enjoyment out of it than I did.
Thanks for the read!