The Garden Of Words (Cert 12)
1 Disc (Distributor: All The Anime) Running time: 48 minutes approx.
Takao Akizuki is a sensitive fifteen year-old student with a desire to become a shoe maker when he finishes school, a vocation choice his friends and family mock. When the rain season hits, Takao skips school by hiding away under a pagoda in the local park, where he can sketch and study shows in peace. One day he finds a young woman, Yukari, already at the pagoda drinking beer and eating chocolate to avoid going to work. They barely speak but, as if by instinct, whenever it rains the pair seem to meet under the same pagoda and despite the age gap they gradually bond, although it is Takao who shares the most about himself. But when the rain season ends and it is time for Takao to go back to school, Yukari’s secrets are soon revealed.
Even since he made his mark with the thirty minute short debut Voices of a Distant Star in 2002, Makoto Shinkai has been one of the most talked new anime film directors of the past decade. His works are noted for their exquisite animation and detailed artwork and the bittersweet tales of human relationships, as seen in the likes of his feature length follow ups The Place Promised In Our Early Days and 5 Centimeters Per Second.
With the onus of having the “New Miyazaki” tag attached to him by critics and fans alike, Shinkai relented somewhat for his last film Journey To Agartha (aka Children Who Chase Lost Voices from Deep Below), entering for the first time into the arena of fantasy adventure. While the results were hugely enjoyable as expected it proved to be his least successful commercial endeavour to date in his native Japan. Perhaps in direct response to this, Shinkai has returned to what he knows best and this forty five minute offering The Garden Of Words has since become his most successful work in Japan!
As ever Shinkai keeps the story superficially basic to allow us to become immersed in the gentle world he creates. Takao is both an average Japanese schoolboy and someone of an anomaly, largely thanks to his fascination with shoes. Living at home with his older brother and lazy alcoholic mother who is evidently something of a catch for the local men as she is never home, Takao is the homemaker when he is not shut away in his tiny room practising his cobbling. Shikai presents us with the perverse irony of Takao finding the sort of maternal interest and bond he is missing with his mother with Yukari, another woman prone to drinking, albeit for different reasons as we learn later on.
After their first meeting Yukari leaves Takao with a tanka (short poem) as a cryptic farewell after she spots the school crest of his jumper. As the rainy days continue and the meetings, completely unplanned, become more frequent, Takao solves the mystery of the riddle. Yukari may be twelve years older than Takao but they appear to be a quite comfortable fit for each other, both seemingly attracted to the quiet personalities the other possesses. But, in another twist of irony, it is not a drop of rain that spoils this pairing but the blazing sun and a return to normality.
There is a reason why Takao is the one revealing his life to us while Yukari remains silent and without spoiling anything it is refreshing to have a secret that isn’t evil, supernatural or outrageous for the sake of a plot twist. With Shitake’s reputation as the master of melancholy we are assured a dramatic and emotionally breakdown when the fallout hits and he delivers right on cue. Possibly the only part of the film that feels a little forced due to the teary melodrama and accompanying symphonic soundtrack, but thankfully it is not enough to spoil the whole film – which clocks in at just 48 minutes so there is barely room to do any real damage.
The brisk running time might lead one to feel the story is rushed or unfinished but the reality is that it feels complete as it is, and any more would be labouring the point to ruin. The daily meetings between the kindred spirits and other passages of time are condensed to montages that sufficiently convey the development of the relationship as much as a full blown scene would, sparing us unnecessary repetition and keeping the story moving at a steady pace.
Through familiar sounds and images, Shikai ensures that while the setting may be thousands of miles from us but it nonetheless an easily identifiable and relatable to the one we inhabit. Using photographs of the Shinjuku Gyoen Park in Tokyo as inspiration, the backgrounds are exceptionally detailed and realistic, as are the minutiae such as rain drops, puddle splashes, insect behaviour and even the lightning flashes in the grey clouds. There is usually one prominent colour in Shinkai’s films and this time it is green, a natural occurrence because of the park setting but it creates a serene atmosphere even when the rain is falling down in buckets. On Blu-ray this looks simply stunning!
If Journey To Agartha failed to impress some audiences because it was Shinkai trying to live up to the Miyazaki comparisons then The Garden Of Words is the return to form they would have been praying for. A delightfully simple yet moving tale that is awash with emotion and brought to life through some of the most luscious visuals committed to screen, this film is proof that Makoto Shinkai should be appreciated for his own style and not be burdened with replacing a past master.
English DTS-HD MA 5.1
Japanese DTS-HD MA 5.1 w/ English Subtitles
Japanese Commentary w/ English Subtitles
Interviews w/ Director Makoto Shinkai and Japanese Cast
English Production stills
The Works of Makoto Shinkai
Rating – **** ½
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