Garden of Words
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When Takao, a young high school student who dreams of becoming a shoe designer, decides to skip school one day in favor of sketching in a rainy garden, he has no idea how much his life will change when he encounters Yukino. Older, but perhaps not as much wiser, she seems adrift in the world. Despite the difference in their ages, they strike up an unusual relationship that unexpectedly continues and evolves, without planning, with random meetings that always occur in the same garden on each rainy day. But the rainy season is coming to a close, and there are so many things still left unsaid and undone between them. Will there be time left for Takao to put his feelings into actions and words? Between the raindrops, between the calms in the storm, what will blossom in THE GARDEN OF WORDS?
Like many 15-year-olds, Takao Akizuki, the hero of director-screenwriter Makoto Shinkai's featurette The Garden of Words (2013), feels trapped in high school. On rainy days, he cuts his morning classes to sit in a park modeled on Shinjuku Gyoen in Tokyo. Sheltered in a pavilion, he draws and dreams of becoming a designer/shoemaker. One morning he meets an "older woman," 27-year-old Ms. Yukino, who seems as lost and directionless as he is. A curious friendship develops between the two misfits. At 44 minutes, The Garden of Words suggests the anime equivalent of a short story. In his earlier, longer films--Voices of a Distant Star (2003), The Place Promised in Our Early Days (2004), Children Who Chase Lost Voices (2011)--Shinkai combined a lyrical visual sense with a frustrating inability to present a story with a satisfying beginning, middle, and end. The shorter form allows him to focus on evoking the atmosphere of the rainy Japanese spring and summer: the camera lingers on spattering droplets, reflections in puddles, dripping leaves, flowing streams. But neither Takao nor Yukino emerge as fully realized as their surroundings, and Takao's bitter outburst when Yukino rejects his fumbling expression of affection comes out of nowhere. Although The Garden of Words ranks as Shinkai's most satisfying work to date, the viewer can't help wishing he would find a writer-collaborator who would give him a script worthy of his directorial talent. (Rated TV 14 D: alcohol and tobacco use, profanity) --Charles Solomon
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As an exercise in depicting the world around us, it is one the best animated films in the realistic style I have ever seen.
The portrait of nature and the urban landscape is remarkable in its beauty and richness of detail.
The blu-ray version includes an hour-long interview with the director and the two Japanese voice artists that impersonate the main characters.
The story has been stripped down to the barest of plots: it has essentially two characters -- and there is hardly any conversation between them. (In fact, the narration felt a little too thin to me, that's why four stars.) They are, for most of the 46 minutes of the film, an enigma to each other, and to the audience. We know more about one of them because the "camera" follows him for much of the time, so we learn that he is a rather mature and serious 15-year old in middle school, who thinks he has found an uncommon vocation (making beautiful shoes) that might take him somewhere else, beyond the confines of his unremarkable life, and is keen to find out if he is up to it. The other one is a 27-year old woman going through a rough patch. They meet repeatedly, at first by chance, at a gazebo in a park in central Tokyo during rainy days (he uses rain as an excuse to cut classes). This gives the animators plenty of opportunity to show some masterful visualization of clouds, rain and running water. There is a little drama towards the end, but nothing much happens that can be seen - there is plenty going on deep down, but one can only guess what that might be based on one's own experience of life. Definitely a movie for adults.
This short piece of graphic chamber music comes after Shinkai's previous full-orchestra, operatic fantasy-action movie "Children Who Chase Lost Voices", and shows that he can do equally well telling such different types of story.
After Hayao Miyazaki's retirement and Satoshi Kon's untimely death, Makoto Shinkai should be welcome as one of the most promising and brightest stars of Japanese animation.
The interviews are longer that the movie in itself, so, be warned this is only 43 minutes long (it accomplishes its goals, so no need to drag on)
In Shinkai's early works, one can sense a disturbing trend of faint silent despair permeated in all the protagonists; Distant Star and 5 cm are the most obvious ones. With Lost Voices and Garden of Words, a steady shift of Shinkai's outlook on the world is evident; the protagonists stopped being portrayed as the victims of circumstances in the society. With Shinkai's latest work, The Garden of Words, the old theme of lamentation has become a journey of inner strength and emotional growth. No scifi action, nor any grand scheme, is needed to steer the story to a satisfying conclusion in The Garden of Words. With two believable protagonists, a well crafted plot, and scores of artistic scenery decorated with masterful background music; I believe Shinkai has delivered his best masterpiece with The Garden of Words.