Kotonoha no Niwa

Alt titles: The Garden of Words

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GermanDragon's avatar By 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
animeandwwefanDXXD's avatar By on Jul 12, 2015

Sooo this movie....watched it randomly this past weekend wth the gf, and i went into it with virtually no expectations except hearing it was good, but was it???

Well just from all the train shots i could tell it was from the same director/animation team that did 5cm per second, hoever this movie was just sorta....meh...

Anywayyyy onto the review...

**Contains spoilers**

Story - 1/10

Could hardly understand what was going on here....all i picked up was:

-Teenage boy skips school to go to a park in shinjuku on rainy days

- meets an older/middle aged woman there drinking beer and eating chocolate

-they become friends

-he wants to make shoes - makes her a pair

-it turns out she was a suspended teacher or something at his school, he finds out

-he professes his love to her, but she suddenly grows morals and rejects him at first

-he gets mad at her and yells in the stairway

-she cries and hugs him

-THE END

Animation - 9/10

Animation is great, though thinking about it now i can't remember anything really great they used it on....

Sound 7/10

catchy for a bit but not to my taste lol

Charachters - 4/10

Again... just like with the story i have hardly any idea on who the charachters are...i didn't check the movie running time but everything seems pretty rushed charachter wise...and pretty much everything else

Ovarall - 6-10

While enjoyable for a quick movie or random anime fix, its not that great...or at least in my opinion :P

1/10 story
9/10 animation
7/10 sound
4/10 characters
6/10 overall
PenquinQueen96's avatar By on Apr 29, 2015

Makoto Shinkai has gathered a reputation in animation despite only having a few works to his name. His distinct direction and visual style have garnered him high praise and he is noted for being one of the few anime directors to really push the boundaries of realism in animation. Garden of Words is his fifth feature length directorial work, despite its short length of only 45 minutes. It tells of a young boy named Takao and his growing friendship with an older woman he meets in the park during a downpour of rain. He is an aspiring shoemaker at an uncertain point in life and she is a teacher named Yukino at his school, struggling with depression after an incident involving a rumour about another student. The story follows the two as they grow closer and begin to slowly open up about their insecurities and uncertainties in their lives.

Animation 9.5/10

Visually, Garden of Words is an absolute visual marvel. It is as close to perfection as animation can achieve in terms of realism. The lighting and sheer detail in the backgrounds must be seen to be believed. Simple weather changes such as rain and sunlight prove astonishing as each individual raindrop is drawn to an incredible standard and the water sparkles under the sun. The realism of the film is both other-worldly and familiar, with even the smallest details painstakingly drawn.

It’s also evident that Shinkai’s detail with character designs has also improved. Despite the similar visual beauty of his other acclaimed work “5 centimetres per second”, his character designs then did suffer from rather generic facial designs in contrast to the beautiful backgrounds. Here, however, the character designs both shine in realism and subtlety. In short, they feel real. If nothing else, this film should be seen just for the sheer visual experience of witnessing it. It’s an astonishing visual achievement.

Sound 7/10

The soundtrack was composed by Daisuke Kashiwa and is mainly composed of soft piano pieces that flow gently under the dialogue and never overpower it. The ending song, “Rain” by Motohiro Hata is a soothing melody and compliments the film well.

The voice acting is fairly subdued and understated in the Japanese track and this greatly adds to the heavy atmosphere and contrasts to the gentle soundtrack. The English track, to my knowledge, has not yet been released in the UK.

Story/Characters   6.5/10

Garden of Words firmly shows Shinkai’s distinct direction at it’s best; he is absolutely excellent at writing slice of life stories. He finds the beauty in realism and his character writing presents his characters as blank slates, which are easy to relate and connect to in the context of the real world. The majority of the film is spent simply between the two main characters and their growing relationship and indecisiveness in their lives. When the two are not interacting, most of the dialogue is the monologue of Takao as he tries to see where he is in life and how he sees his teacher as the maturity and mystery of the adult world. Meanwhile, some of the best scenes of the film feature Yukino herself, showing the depression she is going through and how meeting him gives her something to look forward to every day as she tries to feel better about herself by indulging in alcohol and junk food.

The story is very much less about narrative and more about the atmosphere given by the visuals.  While the two main characters are relatable, they lack any distinct characteristics aside from the traits mentioned above. They are more defined by their actions than traits and much of the story is simply a collection of scenes with them which only all tie together in the last five minutes, which is the film’s best point. The ending is very well done and the feelings and conclusion that the main characters come to leads to a fully satisfying finish. The strength is not in the plot but in the pacing. The short length greatly helps this kind of story, as slice of life done this way can only be intriguing for so long. Despite this, it doesn’t change the fact that a film like this is an acquired taste. Beautiful visuals aside, it can be rather slow in its build-up to the ending and the reliance on almost constant monologue can be grating to some. It has no illusion of an ambitious project as far as plot goes; it’s a very simple and charming story about two ordinary people who end up helping each other without even realizing. The largest appeal of the film comes from the animation, which is so beautifully crafted and presented that it astounds even when the story is moving at a slow pace. Shinkai’s talent undoubtedly lies in showing the beauty of real life in small stories and Garden of Words effectively proves to be the pinnacle of his talents.

Overall 7/10

Garden of Words is an astounding visual achievement first and foremost, to the point where it can sometimes overshadow the story and characters. However, the simplicity of the story proves to complement the atmosphere and showcases Shinkai’s ability as a visual director to convey sweet and genuinely heartfelt sentiment with his characters. Therefore, Garden of Words proves to be a beautifully crafted and endearing film.   

6.5/10 story
9.5/10 animation
7/10 sound
6.5/10 characters
7/10 overall
Xplayer's avatar By on Mar 20, 2015

Why is it that when I watch a Makoto Shikai film I can't just accept that I should expect that I'm going to get an artistic reflection on the ordinary life with generic characters, generic story, but painted in vivid detail both visually and emotionally?

When you watch a Mel Brooks film, you expect zany pop culture references and slapstick humor. When you watch a Stanley Kubrick film, you expect unusual cinematography and mind bending story structure.

When you watch a Hayao Miyazaki film, you expect to enter a fantasy world with a strong set of lead characters to guide you through the adventure. 

Perhaps because I'm such a character driven critic I have difficulty evaluating anime when the characters are meant to be ordinary and relatively uninteresting. Perhaps the desire for “strong main characters” has limited my perception of what makes a good lead. But what was wrong with the characters in The Garden of Words anyway beyond the subjective “inability to connect with them” (404 character not found)? Takao Akizuki was just as determined, hardworking, and kindhearted as any other protagonist. He expressed his emotions in the same flowery language as Takaki, Hiroki, or Noboru. When he wanted something, he was direct, unwavering, and more confident than he'd give himself credit for. He has a false humility streak but I appreciate that more than misplaced pride. Yukari Yukino was the more interesting of the two and the one whose personal internal conflict is the most intense conflict in the story. The audience can definitely sympathize with the plight of someone whose job is so terrifying that she would want to run to a peaceful Japanese garden once in a while. Her silent reflections on the simple pleasures in life really place the garden scenes as some of the best in all of Shinkai's films. 

Perhaps I'm just tired of Shinkai's continued dwelling on the idea of ill fated love, making each of his movies (besides the one no one seems to like as much as I do) essentially retellings of the same story in different settings. But this isn't really true either. 5 centimeters per second, Voices of a Distant Star, and The Place Promised in Our Early Days, all primarily focused on two lovers drifting apart, due to both physical distance and emotional division. The Garden of Words, if I were to attempt to summarize its themes succinctly, is primarily about the existing barriers between people and their dreams, whether it be due to circumstance, outside influence, or something self imposed. When the two main characters meet in the garden, they try to muster the strength to overcome those barriers with the help of each other. This process is subtle and nearly immeasurable, but it clearly exists as the characters begin to bond and rely on each other for emotional support. You could even argue that the love between Akizuki and Yukino was more developed than in the other stories as you get to see the germination and growth of the love rather than the withering and dying of it (but that would be an unfair apples to oranges comparison). 

Perhaps I didn't like the animation or the music? Did I really have to ask this question? Once again Shinkai pushes the bar higher for animation. Once again the animation industry is nowhere near catching up. I still love new agey style music. Next question. 

Perhaps its the ending? Yes the ending of every Shinkai movie is a disappointment (well, besides The Place Promised in Our Early Days, where everything in the second half was a disappointment besides the very end). Sure it was predictable what would happen between the two characters, but predictability is certainly no crime in of itself. The emotions were genuine and generally well acted. I don't think the performances were earth shattering, but they were authentic and fulfilled their purpose. The last after the credits scene was a nice touch, albeit a little diabetically sweet for an anime with a relatively somber tone. 

So why can't I just accept the movie for what it is? Why can't I just be glad that a director can take you into a scene in everyday life with such meticulous detail that you feel like you're standing in the rain with the characters? The issue is for some reason every time a Shinkai film comes out I think it's going to be my new favorite anime. Every time I watch one I get disappointed that it is nowhere near my new favorite anime. It always breaks records for animation, but Shikai's storytelling style isn't one of my preferred ones and it rarely changes. 

I've come to accept that. The Garden of Words is a good movie. I can't wait until Shinkai takes us on another journey of ordinary unrequited love.

7/10 story
10/10 animation
8/10 sound
7/10 characters
9/10 overall
sneezetease's avatar By on Apr 17, 2014

um what.

i usually like movies like this that are choppy and somewhat abrupt, but this one i just didn't get. i did not like that the characters were so far apart in age. i normally would not care about that sort of thing in a love story, but the movie was so short and so poorly developed that it came across as creepy to me.  i also didn't get the huge emotions they show'd at the end and when the boy attacked the other kids given that nowhere in the story did the two lovers really talk about anything of substance.  the only time i felt they connected at all was when the woman recited the haiku at the start. otherwise, they just seemed to keep each other company, which is nice and sometimes all you need in life, but going so far as to fall into each others arms weeping saying you saved me you saved me, ehhhh. it just felt incredibly overdramatic. and what was all that about her not believing in his dreams? that came out of left field. it was all just very abrupt and did not flow.  i didn't expect much, i knew it would be a miracle to develop an entire moving love story in 45 minutes, but this was just awkward. 

?/10 story
?/10 animation
?/10 sound
?/10 characters
2/10 overall