English Title: The Garden of Words
Japanese Title: 言の葉の庭
Director(s): Shinkai Makoto
Writer(s): Shinkai Makoto
Studio: CoMix Wave
Starring: Irino Miyu, Hanazawa Kana
The Garden of Words is Shinkai’s fourth film. Although it is about friendship, it takes a more ambiguous approach compared to his previous works.
The story begins in June, the beginning of the rainy season in Japan. Akizuki Takao is a 15-year-old high school student in Tokyo. On rainy mornings, he skips class and goes to the park in Shinjuku. As he has aspirations to become a shoe designer and shoemaker, he sits at a pergola and sketches his designs.
One day, at the pergola, he sees a woman in her mid-20s, Yukino Yukari, dressed for work. She drinks beer and eats chocolate even though the former is clearly prohibited in the park. Over time, the two converse and get to know each other a little, with Akizuki revealing his aim of becoming a shoemaker.
With such a description, some may be tempted to think this work is approving of inappropriate relationships. Whilst there are romantic elements and undertones, the story is about two strangers with their respective issues who “rescue each other” through a so-called chance meeting. Nothing inappropriate happens nor is implied to happen off-screen; even figuratively or symbolically, the relatively “intimate” moments are consistent to the themes and would be a stretch to infer anything else. In a direct and indirect way, the story does briefly address this issue without jarring the audience out of it.
Akizuki is mostly the viewpoint character. Although he is not a loner, he does a lot of things on his own. Every time he meets with Yukino, she is also alone. To Akizuki, they are in very different worlds. He is in high school, wearing his uniform, working towards his goal of being a shoemaker, to become an adult. Yukino is an adult who presumably belongs in some office. She is attractive and knows how to dress nicely. But, even though there is nothing immodest about her, her not being at work and drinking beer in the morning is not a good look. Like Shinkai’s other works, there is a “distance” between the main characters, a distance that they try to deal with.
The imagery of rain (as well as water and steam) is used almost the entire film, sometimes in a cryptic manner. Rain is something that can isolate but also bring people together, amongst other meanings. Shoes (and feet) are another image, of growth and being able to “walk on your own”. Obviously, Akizuki plays a role in Yukino’s growth despite her being the older one.
Visually, Shinkai and his team have done a beautiful job. The details of Tokyo and the gardens with the layers and depth in coloring are brilliant. The rain, water and their reflections are also well rendered. Rain, when not well handled, can be tiresome to watch. But this is not the case here, which is an achievement considering that most of the film has rain, making what is probably a demanding film for artists.
As a film that has little dialogue, there is more emphasis on visuals. It certainly pushes the boundary to almost being an “arty” piece but at a tight 46 minutes, it avoids being pretentious.
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