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The Garden of Words (2013)
Pitter-a-patter, the rain comes a-falling,
The clouds congregate, and the wind begins squalling.
The sounds of the world are drowned out by the thunder,
As all creatures scurry for roofs to hide under.
As everyone must, the sky too does its weeping
And shares all its tears with the earth for safekeeping.
We patiently wait for the storm to blow through,
Then step out to witness a world washed anew.
MPAA rating: Not rated (could be PG but some language in the English dub bumps it to PG-13)
While anime films can be well over two hours, there are plenty of short ones too, most notably the works of director Makoto Shinkai. Shinkai has been called the next Hayao Miyazaki, but perhaps a better title would be the king of introspection and loneliness. Whereas Miyazaki’s works are far more eventful and character-driven, Shinkai often seems content to let his characters monologue about their emotions, making his films potentially poignant but often rather boring as well. Hence, a short running time is his friend, and except for Children Who Chase Lost Voices (his best film IMO and his longest, which borrows heavily from Miyazaki’s works), Shinkai’s films are usually short enough to not overstay their welcome.
A prime example is The Garden of Words, a brief but beautiful romance of sorts between a high school student named Takao and a depressed older woman named Yukari. They start off as mere acquaintances who happen to meet on rainy days in the park and share a covered bench. Rain is what brings them together, since it gives both an excuse to play hooky and take time for themselves; Takao obsesses over his planned career as a shoemaker while Yukari indulges in beer and chocolate for breakfast. While Takao speaks of his hopes and dreams, admiring Yukari’s feet and planning to make her a pair of shoes, she listens and doesn’t share much about herself. Both are lonely and find themselves wishing for rain, that they may again connect with someone who seems to care.
Clocking in at only 46 minutes, The Garden of Words is light on plot but with an emotive focus on the relationship of the two characters. Even if certain emotions are more implied than explained, their connection carries the appropriate poignancy and an honest but hopeful awareness of the characters’ age difference. Even so, it’s a simple story that wouldn’t nearly be as worth a watch if not for the gorgeous animation. This is where Shinkai most excels; even during the most depressing moments of 5 Centimeters per Second (a film I personally hate), his visuals are lovely. The Garden of Words is almost photo-realistic in its depiction of the Japanese garden where Takao and Yukari meet, and the play of light and water during the rain scenes has a gentle, naturalistic beauty that rivals Miyazaki at his best.
Ultimately, Shinkai is good at conjuring the emotions of his characters on the screen, but although many of his fans would say differently, he rarely makes me feel them. I can sympathize with the struggles of his everyday characters, but I’m watching emotions rather than feeling them. However, symbolism is prevalent in all his works, and his animation is impeccable, so films like The Garden of Words can at least be appreciated as a form of modern art, a short but sweet excursion into someone’s occasionally heavy-handed sentiment.
(Most of Shinkai’s films could qualify for this blogathon. Children Who Chase Lost Voices is the only one that doesn’t, though I’d most recommend it for its Ghibli similarities. The aforementioned 5 Centimeters Per Second (63 minutes) seems to be his most popular film; I, for one, consider it an utterly depressing bore, but I may be the only one who thinks that way. The Place Promised in Our Early Days (about 90 minutes) is another brief but visually memorable romance, though it becomes quite confusing once the plot veers into science fiction. Voices of a Distant Star (25 minutes) is a poignant blending of giant-robot-vs-alien action and the pain of the ultimate long-distance relationship. I’m curious to see his next film called your name., which comes out this August, but of his short works, I’d say The Garden of Words ties with Place Promised as his best so far.)
Best line: (a poem called a tanka, read aloud) “A faint clap of thunder. Even if rain comes not, I will stay here together with you.”
Rank: List Runner-Up
© 2016 S. G. Liput
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