Kotonoha no Niwa

Alt titles: The Garden of Words

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TheStampede01's avatar By TheStampede01 on May 31, 2013

I've been looking forward to Garden of Wal- I mean Words for quite some time now. By the now quite famous Makoto Shinkai and his studio CoMix Wave. I've always enjoyed the visual aspect of his films and this certainly doesn't disappoint. However it is quite lacking in other departments.

Story- To sum it up shortly the story is about the relationship between a younger boy and an older women. While it is somewhat different from the average romance drama, it still has it's problems. If anything I think the story suffers most from the movies rather short run time. The film is only about 46 minutes long, well more like 40 if you cut out the end credits. I feel like there could have been a lot more development for both of the main characters if the film had a longer run time. We are only given hints and exposition for what happened in the past, concerning the affairs of the teacher and her mental trauma. Also another problem I had was the whiplash in pacing. While some scenes are very deliberate and slow others are pretty much just montages and timeskips showing the main characters moving forward in time and "developing" their relationship. The slow scenes that were there were nice, but the sudden time skips and montages just made me feel like they were trying to move the story forward too quickly just because of it's run time. 

Animation- No complaints here. Animation is just brilliant as expected by Shinkai and CoMix Wave. Everything down from the rain drops falling to the ground to just tap water and how food looks. They really payed attention to close details in this anime. The colors of the shadows and light even change due to the scenery with green shadows near green trees and bushes and pink near the sakura trees and yellow under the blinding sun. The character designs were realistic while still not betraying the classic anime style and Shinkai's personal style and the animation is as fluid as it is beautiful. Perhaps the reason why the run time got cut was because they simply couldn't keep up this animation for the full 1h 20 mins of a normal movie, but this is just a guess and still no excuse for the problems with the plot. 

Sound- The music in this anime is simple, mostly just piano melodies, but they do their job well enough. The ending theme is "Rain" by Motohiro Hata, it's no "One more time, one more chance", but it is a nice song and it suits the theme of the movie well. Voice acting was very well done for the most part. The two main character had great performances, but the side characters did not noticebly stand out to me. 

Characters- Another problem I had with this anime. Now I'm not against "Love at first sight", but I'm thinking maybe you should try to get her name after the first time meeting... Takao, the main character is decent enough, but he seems to not exactly be there all the time. As the teacher says hes more or less "in his own world". While this isn't necessarity a bad thing, his "own world" consists mostly of cheesy inner monologues, rain and... possibly a fetish for feet? Or it might just be that he makes shoes. The female lead Yukino (Takao doesn't figure out her name until more than halfway into the movie) is more of less the archetype for the mysterious female character. Even as we learn more about her, it isn't until right at the end of the movie that we see her steely exterior show some cracks. Also she seems to have a penchant for lying, or rather concealing the truth, but I don't think is a favorable trait in characters that your trying to make the audience sympathize with. 

Overall- Now I'm not saying this is a bad movie, far from it actually. I do think the story and characters could have been far better developed though. I really enjoyed this movie for the visual aspect, so I wasn't disappointed in the least. However if you are looking for a good story then this may not meet your expectations. But by all means watch this movie, it is a great way to kill 46 minutes and if anything you'll probably get some nice wallpapers out of it :P

6/10 story
10/10 animation
7/10 sound
6/10 characters
7/10 overall
simonprasad's avatar By simonprasad on May 31, 2013

I, for one, enjoyed Kotonoha no Niwa very much. It's a story about a young boy and an older woman. It is unique when compared to your average romantic movies. 

But there was only one down point - it's only 46 minutes long. Had the movie been a bit long, we could have seen a much greater development between the main characters. 

The animation, the voice acting, the character design, the scenery, are top notch! It was like watching a live action movie. 

I highly recommend this movie! It's worth it!

9.5/10 story
10/10 animation
10/10 sound
10/10 characters
9.5/10 overall
Bradalee's avatar By Bradalee on Jun 1, 2013

Kotonoha no Niwa (The Garden of Words) is the latest work from highly respected director Makoto Shinkai, the man who gave us highly regarded films such as 5 Centimeters per Second and Voices of a Distant Star. Shinkai has always had an innate ability to make the ordinary beautiful in his works, something which rings especially true in this latest offering.

The first thing that will stand out to any viewer will be the absolutely stunning visuals. It is visually breathtaking throughout, from the Urban Jungle of the distinctly Japanese city, to the almost magical natural world of the ‘garden’. Both settings feature a level of detail that surpasses almost all anime out there, even when compared to other feature length films. Be it simple things like the wheels of a train moving or the sumptuous beauty of rainfall, everything is animated exquisitely. The use of light is what really sets this apart from all other anime out there at the moment, not only does light pierce through gaps in the tree canopies above, or reflect off surfaces in a believable manner, but it is also used to staggering effect in combination with the characters. The light hits the characters and serves to embed them seamlessly into the environments, adding a whole new sense of realism to what is already a very realistic aesthetic. The characters themselves are relatively simple, but they fit perfectly with the more realistic aesthetic and tone.

The next thing that should become painfully obvious is the quite brilliant use of sound throughout the anime. From the largely piano based background music, almost mimicking the persistent rainfall that envelops all of the key scenes, to the sound effects of the rain as it hits various surfaces. But perhaps the greatest audio technique used is when sound is all but taken away, leaving only the gentle pitter-patter of raindrops as characters sit there in silence, letting the atmosphere, and symbolism take over  to convey the emotions of the scene . The voice acting on display is stellar as well, with Miyu Irino doing a great job with Takao. But the stand out performance comes from Kana Hanazawa as she effortlessly conveys every emotion that Yukino expresses, from confusion to sadness, despair to relief, she does a remarkable job throughout.

The two main characters are brilliant. First we have the 15 year old Takao, who aspires to become a professional shoemaker once he leaves school. He seems to have a difficult home life and works in order to fund his shoemaking, he has little care for school and can often be found skipping class, especially during rainy mornings. Then we have Yukino, a 27 year old school teacher who spends her mornings sitting on a pavilion bench drinking beer and eating sweets, and it’s at this pavilion where the two characters meet for the first time. Other characters appear from time to time, but it’s these two that are by far and away the main focus of the story.

The way the film depicts the feelings that a schoolboy develops for a mysterious older woman, and how she views him, is at all points believable. Takao essentially becomes infatuated with Yukino, and places her up on a pedestal. He begins to think of her as an escape from his childhood, almost as reference material for him “learning to walk” as an adult. There is a very real danger with characters such as these of falling into a situation where it seems the older woman is somehow taking advantage of a young boy, almost preying on his naivety. But it quickly becomes apparent that she needs Takao as much as he needs her. In fact they both end up learning from one another, or to quote an important line from the film, they are both “learning to walk again” with each others’ help. The way the two play off each other as they gradually become closer is so natural, and enjoyable to watch, with nothing ever coming close to being contrived.

If the film has a weakness, it’s in the story department. That’s not to say the story is bad, rather it’s quite a lovely, nuanced tale of growth and love, it’s just that the viewer might be left wanting a little bit more from it. Shinkai never treads new ground with the plot in any way, and while that still leaves us with a more than acceptable end product, you just feel that if there was something extra in there it could have elevated this film to something even greater. That said, given the 46 minute run time he does a more than adequate job, but some people may be left wanting in the end. And as with every Shinkai work, the ending isn’t perfectly sewn up with all loose ends neatly arranged and dealt with, something those familiar with his works will understand.

Kotonoha no Niwa really is an exceptional film, it’s visually stunning with highly enjoyable, and relatable characters and perfect audio. The way the film effortlessly uses silence to let the visuals and symbolism become the vehicle for characterization and plot progression is just flawless in its execution. Shinkai has once again proven his exceptional ability to create a beautifully nuanced piece of art, one that deserves to go down as a classic.

7/10 story
10/10 animation
10/10 sound
9/10 characters
9/10 overall
snivets's avatar By snivets on Jun 4, 2013

It really doesn't get much better than this. Makoto Shinkai has knocked this one out of the park--every time I watch one of his movies, I wonder if his art can get any better. Hold on to your hats, because somehow, every time, he manages to produce a work of quality that completely overshadows his earlier works.

And that, my friends, is no easy task.

*Spoiler Alert*

Story: Keeping it simple, the story is a bittersweet romantic tale of a boy who meets a stranger in the park on rainy mornings, when it is his rule to skip first period. He has a dream to become a shoemaker; she drinks beer, eats chocolate, and doesn't talk about herself. They fall in love, until late in the film we discover that she is actually a teacher at his school who has been bullied by students.

The tale is downright beautiful, especially their final argument and her confession, which leads to more resolution than love stories sometimes get in Japanese works.

Animation: I don't know that we actually need to discuss this. You know how pretty Iblard Jikan is? This is like that, except better.

Simply put, this is the absolute height of animation quality and I can't imagine how gorgeous it would be on a big screen. Lighting, subtle motions like rain falling on a pond & light spilling over the horizon, extremely natural human motion, and uber detailed, textured, and dimensional landscapes are just a few of the goodies you will encounter in the eye candy department. It manages to be both crisp and soft and completely amazing.

Sound: Again, beautiful and natural, both in music and in voice acting.

Characters: Simple and believable, and relatable. The characters' situations bring up really meaty human questions about the value of school and work, education as a path to achievement, and how difference in status can affect a romance.

Overall: If you like anime at all and are a human being with emotions, this piece is not to be missed. If you are a robot (or a cynic), you might not like the story, but the animation is totally worth 46 minutes of your time.

9/10 story
10/10 animation
10/10 sound
9/10 characters
9.9/10 overall
GermanDragon's avatar By GermanDragon on Jul 3, 2013

Introduction

Every so often, I receive a jarring reminder that time is passing by around me. It feels as though just yesterday I was attending a screening for, what was then Makoto Shinkai's newest film, Children Who Chase Lost Voices. Well, I guess it's time to face the facts: that was nearly two years ago. To be completely honest, the fact that Makoto Shinkai had not only been working on, but had completed another film was a real shock to me. After learning this, I immediately made my way to YouTube to find a trailer for this newest film. And I watched the trailer. And my jaw dropped.

By now, the name Makoto Shinkai is synonymous with production values that are absolutely through the roof. I think we may have reached a point where the aesthetic quality of his work is no longer even rivaled by Studio Ghibli. But I was still completely blown away by what I saw. I was convinced that what I was looking at was a trailer for one of the most beautiful animations I had ever seen. I knew instantly that Garden of Words was a film that I had to get my hands on. Now that I've gotten my hands on it, and had the chance to watch it, I have a lot to say about it.


The Review

To start with, I'd like to explain that I was cautiously optimistic of Garden of Words after watching the trailer. I have all of the respect in the world for Makoto Shinkai as a director and an animator, I've never been particularly impressed by his forays into the realms of romance and drama, and that's clearly what Garden looked to be. This is not to say that films such as 5 Centimeters Per Second are bad -- rather, I simply acknowledge that I am not, even remotely, a part of the targeted demographic for such films. So when what I had seen of Garden of Words strongly hinted at it being another romantic drama, this made me, admittedly, somewhat apprehensive. However, I now happily -- if somewhat confusedly -- admit that my fears were completely unwarranted. While it's true that Garden of Words is a romance-drama, there's something special about this one. Somehow, it was touching enough, and moving enough, to really tug at my heart strings and to melt (a bit of) the ice inside me.

The story is focused on Takao, a fifteen-year-old high school student who has a passion for designing and creating shoes. He comes across as someone who has talent and passion, but who hasn't quite found his place in the world yet. He's unable to focus in school, and he begins skipping class whenever it rains, so that he can enjoy the calming weather. As the rainy season arrives in Kanto, he begins missing days more frequently, choosing to instead spend his time in the public garden under a gazebo. There, he contentedly spends time sketching designs for his shoes; but he is not alone. The first day in the rain, he meets Yukino, a woman in her late twenties. At first they don't speak much to one another, but they soon form a unique relationship, meeting under the gazebo on each rainy day -- Takao skipping school, and this mysterious woman, presumably, skipping work. Every time they meet, Takao works on his sketches, while the woman drinks beer and eats chocolate. As time passes, however, they open up to one another and form something of a friendship. This peculiar relationship then, ever so slowly, motions towards becoming something more.

Now, in my personal opinion, the evolution of a relationship is something that's rarely worth hanging the entirety of a film's plot upon. It's usually not interesting enough to warrant that kind of treatment. However, doing so works for Garden of Words because the hook is three-pronged: One, the characters are likable in their imperfection. They are flawed, but we really want to see them happy. Two, the movie looks absolutely jaw-on-the-floor amazing. With the plot's focus on rainy weather, the beautiful artwork is allowed to shine under the spot light -- and shine it does. Three, with a duration of just forty-six minutes, Garden of Words has enough time to make us care about Takao and Yukino, to build emotional tension leading up to the film's climax, and to then end -- before overstaying its welcome like so many films in this genre are prone to doing.

I think, also, what helps Garden of Words, is that nothing in this movie seems forced. Even though we can see the seeds of something sprouting up between Yikino and Takao fairly early on in the film, it comes across as being very organic. There's nothing silly like love at first sight, or one of the characters falling head over heels for the other. Instead, we, as viewers, are given the opportunity to quietly enjoy the rain with two quirky characters who are struggling to face challenges in their own lives, while enjoying the other's company. The characters display open signs that romance is not the only thing in their life -- nor is it even the most important thing. They are not empty-headed love-birds, and that is a real breath of fresh air. Perhaps because of this, factors such as the age difference between the two characters don't threaten to usurp focus like they might in a lesser film. Here, everything comes across as being just a bit more low-key, and the film is all the better for it.

Garden of Words is not without its flaws, but most of them are technical, and all of them are minor. There are, for instance, issues with the film's sound effect and voice-over volume levels. On more than one occasion I found myself reading subtitles when I couldn't actually hear any words being spoken. Upon ticking up the volume, I'd discover that a radio or intercom was present in the scene -- but I'd then have to lower the volume again, when a character's whisper would be channeled to me as a low scream. I feel like this is worth bringing up, as its the film's biggest flaw, but it's still nowhere near problematic enough to keep this from being the best animated film I've seen in years. I've already stated that it is one of the best looking ones, but I now find myself wrestling with that concept. Is it, instead, the best looking animated movie I've ever seen? I'm not sure I want to be locked down to such a bold statement, but it sounds plausible at the moment. I certainly wouldn't dismiss the notion.


Final Words

I applaud Garden for having the prudence to tell its story in a timely manner. And yet, part of me can't help but feel that it was all over too soon. I really can't remember the last time I was so thoroughly engrossed by a movie. It's not uncommon to get lost in a good film-- but that's not what happened to me while watching this one. I consciously absorbed every frame of this production, listening to the rainfall, paying attention to the way lighting is casted on the people and objects, appreciating the line art, and listening to the intonation of the characters' voices. I was enthralled from the very beginning, and became more so as the film progressed. And while I won't divulge how the film ends, it is not one that ever runs out of gas. It picks up steam the entire way, and ends strongly, which definitely counts for a lot.

I feel as though my praise for this film could not be made any clearer. I consider this to be a modern classic, and to be Makoto Shinkai's masterpiece. To grant context to my opinion: I view this as being on near-equal footing with films such as Princess Mononoke, and Ghost in the Shell

Final Rating: 9.25 out of 10.0

9/10 story
10/10 animation
9/10 sound
9/10 characters
9.3/10 overall