“The Garden of Words” Anime Review

Makoto Shinkai, CoMix Wave, The Garden of Words (2013) ”Copyrighted Image”

“Garden of Words” is a 46-minute film directed by Makoto Shinkai, the same director as “5 Centimetres Per Second.” The story follows Akizuki Takao, a 15 year old teenager who aspires to be a shoemaker. On rainy mornings, he likes to skip school and go to a garden, where he sits in a shelter to design shoes while enjoying the view of the garden. One day, he meets a woman named Yukino Yukari sitting under the shelter. At first, they don’t talk to each other, but as they meet each other more often, they start to open up and chat with each other. While Takao talks about his dreams of being a shoemaker, and offers to make a pair of shoes for Yukari, Yukari says very little about herself, and only says she is skipping work because of personal problems she’s experiencing there. In fact, Takao only learns her name and identity halfway through the movie.

The main two themes of this story are love and maturity, and these two go hand-in-hand with each other. As both of these characters spend more time with each other, they also start taking care of each other more. However, the difference between their ages makes their relationship unusual, as romantic relationships between a teenager and an adult is not commonly accepted in their community. The story also shows Takao and Yukari’s opinions on the other’s life. Takao dislikes his current life as a student and believes that the world of adults – the world Yukari is in – would be better for him. In contrast, Yukari doesn’t know what to do with her life as an adult, and feels as immature as a teenager. This creates an interesting polarity where one would like to experience the other’s world, but neither world is better or worst.

Moving on to our main two characters, while it is pleasant to watch them interact and talk to each other, you can’t help but feel that it is one-sided because Yukari doesn’t really say much. In my opinion, I feel that that’s a missed opportunity. In fact, to show you how reserved she was, she recites a poem during their last meeting in the rain, which is supposed to make her seem like a developed character, but I think it just adds to the lack of detail in her. I think that Yukari being more reserved and quiet detracts from the calm atmosphere that the show sets up. The rainy and quiet atmosphere that the visuals and music create allow a sense of peace. Both Takao and Yukari are alone and it is the perfect moment for them to show express themselves, yet it the opportunity is missed by not showing the viewers more of who Yukari’s personality. I feel that the movie needed both characters to participate, and not only Takao to keep the story going.

Speaking of visuals, Makoto Shinkai has been known to use visuals in his work to tell the story, rather than having the characters explain the exposition. Therefore, the animation and visuals of this film play a role that is just as important as the characters. For example, usually whenever rain is shown in films it is a sign that things are going to become worst. However, Makoto Shinkhai uses rain differently as when it is raining, it is an escape for our characters from reality. The beauty of the garden while it is raining makes rain seem pleasant and beautiful, and it is where our characters are at their best.

His films also have minimal dialogue and thoughts narrated because he uses visuals atmosphere to show emotions. From the dripping of rain on the ground, to the trees blowing in the light wind, it’s very beautiful. Good wallpaper material, actually. Watch any one of his films, and you’ll understand his style. While this works quite well in this film, I feel that since Takao and Yukari are only sitting under a shelter, there should have been more dialogue and detail between the characters because I feel that more could have been said by the characters. Although, Makoto Shinkhai’s style is supposed to be subtle, I feel that there just isn’t enough being explained by the characters.

As for the ending, it is somewhat sad, I think. Both “The Garden of Words” and “5 Centimetres Per Second” are quite rooted in reality, so a happy ending is not present in both of these. Unlike “5 Centimetres Per Second,” “The Garden of Words” doesn’t give the viewers a sense of hope in the end, and abruptly concludes. In my opinion, it doesn’t have any rising action to the conclusion and it doesn’t have a strong climax either. Their characters don’t develop much and their relationship doesn’t go anywhere. While I think that it what makes this film tragic like his previous film, it just leaves the audience unsatisfied.

In his previous film, “5 Seconds Per Second,” the two main characters (Takaki and Akari) had a close relationship before they were separated, and actually cared deeply for each other, which made us want them to be together again. The train scene in that movie just showed the extent of Takaki’s love for Akari, and how much he did to see her once again for the final time. However, in this movie, “The Garden of Words,” there is very little development in the characters and their romance, and when we start to care about them, the movie concludes. Therefore, it’s hard for the audience to feel sad once the film has concluded because of little development, in my opinion.

To conclude, I feel that while “The Garden of Words” has some of the most beautiful and atmospheric animation in modern anime, it lacks the emotional impact to make us care and feel sad for the characters. It’s still a pleasant and quick watch (only 46 minutes) but, it does have flaws that make the experience less special and memorable.