On a rainy morning in Tokyo, Takao Akizuki, an aspiring shoemaker, decides to skip class to sketch designs in a beautiful garden. This is where he meets Yukari Yukino, a beautiful yet mysterious woman, for the very first time. Offering to make her new shoes, Takao continues to meet with Yukari throughout the rainy season, and without even realizing it, the two are able to alleviate the worries hidden in their hearts just by being with each other. However, their personal struggles have not disappeared completely, and as the end of the rainy season approaches, their relationship will be put to the test. [Written by MAL Rewrite]
The greatest injustice that can be inflicted upon “Kotonoha no Niwa” is to falsely and narrowly label this 46-minute film a simple story of love. Too often do you see people claim that this movie is one about a “forbidden love” created by an age difference and it is through these lens that unwarranted and confused criticisms of the show sometimes emerge. The Garden of Words has a level of nuanced complexity that is concealed for the presumptuous as it requires you to think and pay attention to its use of visuals as well as its dialogue to realise this. Indeed, Makoto Shinkai himself stated that he wanted to write a tale of “lonely sadness” and whilst romance is definitely a prevalent theme, it is not portrayed nor explored in a traditional fashion.
The entire plot centralises around the interactions between our two main characters: a young student and a mysterious grown-up woman. Be that as it may, the dialogue is very minimal but simultaneously so potent for a vast majority of the development that occurs and the insights we gain into our protagonists hinges upon brief and restrained conversations. It is the absence of dialogue in many cases that convey human emotions more eminently and passionately than when spoken and the visuals play an incredible role to enhance this. Given the film’s brevity, it requires every element to contribute to the plot and no element exists without a reason – be it simple movements, scenery, music or dialogue. It is truly impressive to see how effectively and concisely deep emotions and their underlying intentions are conveyed. The story is told elegantly for nothing is wasted.
Rain is a fundamental aspect that initially represents the condition necessary for our protagonists to meet. I think with regards to the symbolism that Shinkai has employed to explore key themes, it is better if you watch and contemplate yourself on them as this is where the majority of the satisfaction lies in this movie. The most impressive aspect of the Shinkai’s film was how effectively extended metaphors such as the rain were used consistently and in an enlightening fashion which keeps the film short yet brimming with sentiment. These themes coalesce with our characters and their self-discoveries to tell a larger story at hand in a modern social context exploring the Japanese traditional notion of love. Takao’s burning desire to transcend into adulthood and realise his dreams is beautifully embodied by the older and seemingly sophisticated woman but even during the film’s brief journey, Takao’s preconceptions are deconstructed and despite their differences, they come to realise their similarities through their interactions under the rain which are painfully human. Perhaps my only significant issue I found was the lack of emotional intensity or potency that led our female main character to the position and predicament she was in. By no means was it weak but it seemed lacking compared to how brilliantly Takao was characterised and this slight imbalance for me, hampered the final climax to a certain degree.
For a film whose strengths lies in its representation through resigned soliloquies, much of the portrayal lies in the hands of the artwork and animation which are nothing short of a masterpiece. This is the most visually impressive work I have ever seen in the entirety of the anime medium. The animation is flawless with excellent cinematography such as clever use of deep focus in more intimate scenes that successfully emphasise key metaphors employed and well angled panoramas boasting the vast and gorgeous landscapes that are a sight for sore eyes. The sceneries and landscapes are meticulously drawn with details that are exceptionally similar to real life further enhancing the immersion of the experience. The musical score has a larger focus on softer pieces that almost act as an addition to natural sounds of rain and nature or the cacophony of city-life. The soundtrack is entirely piano-based and range from subtler pieces that capture the ambience of the moment to more prominent pieces such as “Greenery Rain” (one of my favourite anime OSTs) which accompany many of the visual experiences.
“Kotonoha no Niwa” is a magnificent movie that adopts a more nuanced and authentic approach in exploring human relationships. As stated initially, this is not simply a bittersweet romance that many condemn it to be but a subtle journey into the solitude and desires humans hold, within a prominent and relevant modern day social context. All of this is delivered to viewers in a film that entirely takes advantage of the anime medium, showing just how much artistry and cinematic storytelling that resonates within you (as most Shinkai films do) can be achieved in a what is fundamentally 46 minutes of animated images.