by Janice Yeoh
Imagine a 15 year old kid complimented a 27 year old stranger’s foot saying that it is beautiful and requested them to take off their shoes and start drawing. And turns out, said stranger was formally a teacher at his high school and they start falling in love. How creepy would that be?
Jokes aside, “The Garden of Words” is a short movie by Makoto Shinkai, a household name that has been prevalent over the years in the anime film industry. After his hit movie, “5 Centimetres per Second” in 2007, he established himself as a director with the ability to combine masterful artistic vision with emotional, bittersweet storytelling. His latest movie, “The Garden of Words”, depicts the relationship between a high school student and an older woman.
The story starts off as the protagonist Takao, who is training to become a shoemaker, skipped school to sketch shoe designs in a Japanese-style garden. Over there, he meets a mysterious woman, Yukino, who is older than him. Then, the two start to see each other again and again, but only on rainy days. Takao, feeling lost by his uncertain future and shoemaking passion; and Yukino, who is feeling lost in society where she feels she does not belong in, start to deepen their relationship and open up to each other.
Despite being a character-driven story with first person narration, the movie devotes a great deal of time with scenic shots. It is a visual spectacle in every regard, meant to have us immersed in the world. The breath-taking and overbearing details of the scenery in the movie are so stunning that the dialogues may sound like little more than background noises. Due to the differences in age and personality between the two characters, the garden is supposed to express what the characters themselves cannot – a “Garden of Words”. The two characters enjoy the presence of rain, which usually symbolises sadness and isolation, but the shelter that the garden provides gives a medium for the two to emotionally connect beyond words.
Next, The Garden of Words consists mostly of ambience soundtracks, with the exception of some beautifully composed piano solos. The soundtracks together with the animation, makes you feel as if you were there with the characters. It is also from this moments like these that form hope within Takao and Yukino. This movie represents people’s feelings towards hopes and dreams for the future, which I am sure most of us can relate to.
As the movie reaches its climax, the subtlety and slow pace at which the characters’ relationship develops starts to break, showing an uncharacteristically forceful confrontation. As an outburst of emotion with a fair bit of yelling and crying, it is more powerful than the silent, emotional scenes but not awkward enough to be dismissed as melodramatic. The movie even ends with the same unrequited love as most of Shinkai’s previous works. However, this time is it less ambiguous but ending with the same, physical distance between two characters.
To conclude, The Garden of Words is probably one the most visually appealing anime movies I have watched. However, if you are looking for a deeper plot, then this might leave you slightly unsatisfied. Needless to say though, the artistic visuals of The Garden of Words will leave you breathless.
by Janice Yeoh