Makoto Shinkai, who entered the anime scene in 2007, has produced and helped create a myriad of tragic love stories. I took a look at his six minute short, Dareka no Manazashi in Part I of my Makoto Shinkai Series. Here in Part II, I’m going to explore his 45 minute short film Kotonoha no Niwa, also known as The Garden of Words, produced by the animation studio CoMix Wave.
Let’s get to it!
The story revolves around Takao Akizuki. He is a typical high school student that has aspirations and dreams of becoming a shoemaker. This passion of his drove him to drop out of school so he could focus solely on honing his craft. One day, while visiting a garden-themed park, it begins to rain so he takes cover under a small shelter. There he meets a woman who is a little older, named Yukari Yukino. As the two of them begin to talk, Takao’s feelings for her begin to grow. They continue to meet in the same spot, but only on rainy days; in Makoto Shinkai’s style of storytelling… those rainy days will not last forever and once they end, the fate of these two shall be met.
There is one big common theme in Shinkai’s storytelling when it comes to romance… and that’s distance. Distance comes in many different forms with him and in this case, it’s an age distance. It is later revealed that Yukari is a teacher at the high school where Takao attends. Not only would a relationship between them violate many standards and laws, but the simple age difference between them is enough to create an eventual rift between the two of them towards the end of the movie. The feelings between the two of them are there, but it’s a painstaking reality for the both of them because they realize that no matter how strongly they feel for each other, it is a relationship that can just never be because of the aforementioned impossibilities.
It is certainly not the first time a love story like this has existed in the world of entertainment. There have been many twists and turns on the forbidden love genre for centuries. This is simply just another entry and, honestly, as good as the story is, it’s not over-the-top amazing and feels a bit generic, but that’s not to say that it wasn’t enjoyable, though.
Let’s take a look at the two main characters since they stood front and center for the vast majority of the film.
He is your main character for this movie and his personality isn’t really much like those his age. He is a bit energetic like you would expect a person of that age to be, but he is also very hard-working, focused, and mature as well. One thing he dislikes is the rain, particularly going to school while it’s raining. On those rainy days, he would skip school in order to come up with new shoe designs, often by visiting a garden-themed park. He balances his design work between school and a part-time job, which is another reflection of how advanced his maturity is for someone of his age. Perhaps, it’s this aura of persona about him that causes our next character off guard.
She is your second main character and a teacher at Takao’s school. She’s going through a rough time in her own personal life so she spends her days at the garden eating chocolates and drinking beer. At first, you think that she’s just some brash lush, but the longer the conversations go on between Yukari and Takao, you begin to understand her plight. While the backstories aren’t extremely fleshed out, you can get a sense where Yukari is coming from. She simply just wants to find that escape we all do when life begins to give us a stern reminder of how harsh it can be sometimes. This, I believe, allows Yukari to let her guard down which begins the building of her feelings towards Takao. She becomes interested in his dream and even begins to act as a bit of support for him. She enjoys meeting with him on each and every rainy day and you can start to feel the change inside of her because of Takao. I think it’s a character that some of us can relate to as I think at some point or other, we’ve all been there.
There are some supporting characters in The Garden of Words, but they are hardly worth mentioning because they barely get any screen time and/or backstory. Characters like Matsumoto, who is Takao’s friend at school, and Matsumoto’s girlfriend, Satou are shining examples of characters simply acting as warm bodies to provide a line or two to help the flow of the movie. In that regard, I suppose they accomplish their goal.
That is part of the problem with short films is that character development often suffers. There just isn’t enough time and space to get the viewer to care about the entire cast so they are typically written off as cannon fodder so that the focus can be on the main characters and them alone. This is what happens here in The Garden of Words and while I wish it wasn’t so because I am a big fan of fleshed out casts, there really wasn’t much of a choice. It was either develop everyone and rush through it, or focus on the most important people. The clear decision was the latter in this case, but hey… it still worked rather well.
Art & Animation
When I purchased my 1080p LED monitor for my desktop, this was the first thing I ran on it to see the film in its entire glory. The Garden of Words is simply jaw-dropping. There is no better way to describe it. From the CG backgrounds and sky, to the character design, to the little nuances of animation in the background, this is one of the best looking animes I have ever seen in my entire life.. and I’ve seen well over 300 shows, movies, shorts, and series. This one stands out above all I have seen for its insane attention to detail.
Individual blades of grass are animated, leaves are animated, individual rain drops are animated, but the best work, in my opinion, was watching Takao draw out his shoe patterns. The flawless curves, the fact that you can sense texture on the paper when the pencil rolls across its surface is just simply mesmerizing. Makoto Shinkai and CoMix do not disappoint here and have taken movie-level animation and set a pretty high standard with this film. Perhaps it’s because The Garden of Words only 45 minutes that they could spare no expense, but it’s still a shining example of breath-taking artwork!
In fact, if there was anything negative I’d have to say about the art is that it was TOO pretty. Often times, I was actually paying more attention to the backgrounds and detail than I was the story. This is a balance the creators have to watch out for because you can produce the best-looking thing in the world, but if that’s going to distract your viewers from what they should be paying attention to, then that becomes a problem. It wasn’t exactly a glaring problem, mind you, but when you don’t speak Japanese and you have to read the sub-titles and the art is distracting you from that, all you hear is the random mumbling of a language you don’t understand in the background as your brain processes the visuals and the voice inside your head constantly goes “ooo.. that’s pretty”
I mean.. just look at this!!
The Garden of Words is another short and sweet release from Makoto Shinkai and while I felt it should have been longer to flesh out the story, what you did get was satisfying enough. You had the intro, the build, the climax, and the resolution. Others felt that this would be better suited for a 24 episode anime series and I tend to agree with them, but if you have 45 minutes to kill and want to integrate your brain with stunning high definition animation, then I can’t recommend this show enough.
It’s definitely not the best story Makoto Shinkai has produced, especially when he produced the highly acclaimed 5cm Per Second movie, but it’s still good enough to warrant a viewing. The art draws you in, the characters are completely believable, and it’s a nice simply tale of forbidden love that’s not named Romeo & Juliet. I think if you’re into this kind of genre, you’ll find it satisfying.
In Part III of the Makoto Shinkai series, I’ll be moving away from the shorts he’s produced and I’ll cover the two anime series that he had a hand in adapting. Up first will be ef: A Tale of Memories!
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Until next time
The Garden of Words
While it may have been better suited for an actual anime series, The Garden of Words offers a decent story of forbidden love.