Film Review: Garden of Words (2013)

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For a change of pace, I watched an anime film not created by Studio Ghibli. To expand my animation boundaries, I tried The Garden of Words which was written and directed by Makoto Shinkai (referred to as “The New Hayao Miyazaki” on IMDB—so maybe I’m not expanding my boundaries too far). I was so pleasantly surprised by this film that I started kicking myself all over again for not watching anime earlier. I’ve been missing all sorts of lovely movies so be prepared for more non-Studio Ghibli film reviews in the future.

Okay, onto the film. . .

In The Garden of Words, Takao skips school on rainy days to practice designing shoes. He’s fifteen and far more interested in honing his craft than attending classes and getting good grades. One day, he meets a woman in the park where he goes to sketch. She’s drinking beer and eating chocolates, and he strikes up a conversation with her. She’s older than him, and he’s fascinated by the adult world and by her. Every rainy day after that, they meet in the park. He sketches and she drinks but only at first. Soon, they’re spending an entire rainy season talking and getting to know one another.

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What stood out most about The Garden of Words was the animation. About a minute into the film, I had to hit the pause button so I could Google how they created the look of the park (they drew over photographs to get the detail). Everything about the backgrounds and scenery was just gorgeous. I couldn’t stop myself from being totally distracted by the realistic look of everything. I was fascinated by the steam rolling off Yukari’s (the main female character) coffee cup and the way the trains looked as they roared down the tracks. I loved every minute of this film solely because of the animation. I’ve seen a lot of animated films, but this is the first time I felt like I was looking at a work of art through the entire movie. In part, that might be because the animation felt like the focus of the piece rather than the story. Usually, I wouldn’t be okay with that, but since The Garden of Words was only forty-six minutes long, I didn’t ever feel that was a problem. I could have even done with more scenes of raindrops plopping on bridges.

Of course, I should point out that the characters were not drawn nearly as well as their surroundings. If you read comics, you might have come across those books where all the characters look about the same and you can only tell them apart by their hair color. That was this movie. I did get confused a few times about which characters were which. I wish they would have had as much detail as everything else, but it didn’t tract too much from my overall enjoyment of the film.

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What caused me more issues was the plot. It was obviously secondary to the art for me—which is good because I’m of two minds about the plot. I liked the concept of two strangers meeting by chance and helping each other through a difficult time. During their months together, Yukari gave Takao the confidence to pursue his dream of making shoes and he helped her move forward from an extremely horrible circumstance at her job. Takao and Yukari’s relationship was good that way since it was beneficial to them both—unfortunately, there was the ick factor of their age difference. She was twenty-seven and he was fifteen. While their relationship wasn’t strictly romantic, it did have some hints at sexual tension. It wasn’t explicitly stated on her end (which I was extremely thankful for), but we know Takao was in love with her. That part of the story just felt uncomfortable to me, especially considering the after credits scene.

I actually wish the story had been told more from Yukari’s point-of-view because that could have done away with my uncomfortableness (provided she wasn’t in love with Takao). Her story was the more interesting one anyway, and I would have liked to know more about her. I simply wasn’t satisfied with her very limited voice-over in the film.

On the whole, I was pretty much blown away by The Garden of Words. It wasn’t perfect, by any means, but the artwork was just too gorgeous for me not to fall a bit in love with this film. I would recommend it for the artwork and not the story. I know I definitely want to try more of Makoto Shinkai’s films now. Maybe I’ll find one with a better plot but equally as excellent art.

What animated film has your favorite artwork?

Image Source: Hunters Chance

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12 thoughts on “Film Review: Garden of Words (2013)

  1. I watched this movie a couple months ago and have similar thoughts and feelings about it. I really wish we would have gotten to know more about her. 😦

    If you like this one, you might like Children Who Chase Lost Voices From Deep Below. The animation isn’t as great as this one, but I really liked it.

  2. I’ve never heard of this one before but it looks gorgeous! I’ll definitely have to check it out. Have you seen Paprika by Satoshi Kon? Excellent story, and I love the artwork!

  3. Those visuals are simply stunning and I would watch the film for them, though I was worried that the relationship portrayed was going to veer into some problematic territory.

  4. Agreed re: the animation, I remember feeling blown away by the artwork and what I was seeing. I also love the soundtrack very much, it’s just perfect for the tone and look of the story. I can’t remember what I mentioned in my review about the story but I could’ve used more minutes to flesh out the story more.

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