The Garden of Words – Review

Japanese Title: Kotonoha no Niwa

 

Related: 5 Centimetres per Second (same director)

Voices of a Distant Star (same director)

The Place Promised in Our Early Days (same director)

Similar: Into the Forest of Fireflies’ Light

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Romance

Length: 45-minute movie

 

Positives:

  • Heartbreakingly beautiful art in every aspect.
  • Rain and thunder ambience that creates an absorbing atmosphere.
  • A subtle soundtrack of piano and violin to fit the emotions.
  • The details in the animations.

Negatives:

  • Too short, making for an abrupt ending.

The Garden of Words is the latest in visual master Makoto Shinkai’s library of anime. Just like 5 Centimetres per Second, The Garden of Words more than lives up to Shinkai’s legacy of pushing art to the limits in anime.

This time we see Takao, a high school student, who skips school during the rainy season to sketch under a gazebo in a Japanese garden park, where he meets older woman Yukino. She drinks beer all day and mountains of chocolate. The two start meeting in the park regularly, knowing that the other will be there when it rains and slowly begin to talk to each other. She has problems at work to deal with while he wants to become a shoemaker, hoping to have a more fulfilling life. Though what will they do when the rainy season ends?

I can’t get the art out of my head – it’s so incredibly beautiful. To see how much attention to detail the artists put into the work is mind-blowing. There are no shortcuts here. Greens and greys dominate the colour pallet, invoking beauty and a sense of sorrow at the same time, a loneliness in pursuing what one finds precious. Everything from the rain to lightning is stunning. When the wind hits the rain…chills, my friend…chills.

The little things make this art a cut above the rest. My favourite detail is the reflective distortion for every single raindrop hitting the water. There are even things that most people wouldn’t pay attention to like clouds of different sizes and distance moving at varying speeds. Even the lightning has full animation; rather than flashing a single frame, the artists animated the growth of the lightning across the sky. Phenomenal.

The sound effects match the visuals with an orchestra of rain, thunder and wind, one of the most pleasant sounds on Earth. A few music pieces accompany the ambience to great effect. Piano plays in an agitated manner, getting faster with the rising desperation of Takao, until violin comes in for the uplifting moments. The only flaw in terms of audio is the voice work. It isn’t bad by any means – good, in fact – but the limited scope of the narrative and sombre mood doesn’t allow for much range or a variety of expressions.

The Garden of Words is very much a short story in scope; two protagonists, each with a thread, entwine their lives with one another. Takao’s brother is ancillary to Takao himself, acting as a father figure simply to avoid Takao being a lone child. If Takao were older, I believe Shinkai would have cut the brother – that’s how small a part the supporting cast plays. Shinkai is known for stripping his stories down to the bones, which is great when wanting to focus on a single topic, but does result in a limited scope. Here, the focus is on loneliness and finding comfort in an unlikely place with unexpected results. We don’t see a whirlwind of emotion, two strangers caught up in a romanticised drama woven from their desire to find comfort in the company of a stranger. No, these two are subtle in their interactions, slowly building up to heightened drama as they deal with their problems. In short, for the narrative to grip you, this focused storytelling has to be your cup of tea. Takao and Yukino will either captivate you or bore you – nothing in between.

If I had to level a complaint against The Garden of Words, it would be towards its length. The story feels like it ends much too soon. It needed at least another fifteen minutes to get the full message out – ideally, twice the total length for some in-depth exploration of the characters and their lives. (Or am I just saying that as an excuse to feel more of the atmosphere?)

The Garden of Words nails atmosphere at a master class level with its art and audio mixing, and is a must watch for any pluviophile, even if the story isn’t particularly to your tastes.

Art – Very High

One of the most beautiful pieces of art put to screen.

Sound – High

I could listen to the stormy ambiance forever. Good voice work as well.

Story – High

A heartfelt story of moving forward in life. Shame about the length.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: A must watch for 45 minutes of your life. The Garden of Words is a film for those looking to relax and listen to the sound of rain.

(Find out more about the rating system here.)

 

Awards: (hover mouse over each award to see descriptions; click award for more recipients)

Positive: 

Fluid AnimationGreat MusicStunning Art Quality

Negative: None.

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