The Infinite Zenith

Where insights on anime, games, academia and life dare to converge

The Garden of Words Review

We have met, for each of us to walk forward.

Takao, who is training to become a shoemaker, skips school and is sketching shoes in a Japanese-style garden. He meets a mysterious woman, Yukino, who is older than him. Then, without arranging the times, the two start to see each other again and again, but only on rainy days. They deepen their relationship and open up to each other. But the end of the rainy season soon approaches…

It has been two years since Children Who Chase Lost Voices from Deep Below was released, and the announcement of The Garden of Words admittedly took me entirely by surprise. I became aware of The Garden of Words through word of mouth, when one of the developers at the lab asked me whether or not I had heard about this latest Makoto Shinkai film while we were en route to Namaskar, a restuarant that serves Indian Cuisine. My interest piqued, I subsequently resolved to check out the movie and naturally, provide a short discussion of it here. As per usual, viewers are doubtlessly looking for the screenshots, and this is where my content will deliver.

  • Before I delve any further into the reflection, the movie’s Japanese name is Kotonoha no Niwa (言の葉の庭), which shares kanji with Kotonoha (言葉) from School Days. Fortunately for viewers, there won’t be any scenes requiring a nice boat to rectify. The entire story begins by mere chance, when Takao comes across Yukari on a rainy day at a park. These first few scenes were posted everywhere on the internet after a trailer was released somewhere back in February, when I was tied down with Software Engineering assignments. As such, I remained unaware of the movie’s existence until after it was released.

  • I’ve broken up this post such that there are thirty photographs (and thirty painstakingly-written figure captions for each image). This is one of my longer posts to date, barring the K-On! Movie. For the unfamiliar, I make an effort to provide the highest quality images from anime, and I will look down on and laugh at remain neutral towards those who call screenshots “frame grabs”.

  • Altogether, my opinions of the movie are simple enough, so for all of my screenshots, I will likely be discussing what I see in the image itself, or else recall something from my experiences. For instance, I chose this image to show off Makoto Shikai’s talents at rendering clutter in people’s homes, depicting a home-like environment. In other anime, things are a lot cleaner and almost feel sterile.

  • There is a sort of cruel irony that I watched The Garden of Tears while a heavy rainfall warning was in effect for where I live. At the risk of discussing my location to those who disagree with my methods, the rain has been sufficiently heavy as to shut down the downtown core, put the trains out of commission and even wash out a part of the highway to the mountains.

  • At the movie’s start, I was thinking “I hope that there isn’t a love story  here”, given the obvious age difference between Takao and Yukari and the implications it would bring.

  • As time wears on, Takao and Yukari become closer to one another, although as is typical for people with a large age difference, the older individual always feels more distant and enigmatic. At the time of writing, I am closer to Yukari’s age than I am to Takao’s age, perhaps bringing to bear of just how ancient I am becoming.

  • Takao lives with his mother and older brother, with the latter bearing much resemblance to Morisaki from Children who Chase Lost Voices from Deep Below. In fact, a handful of Makoto Shinkai’s characters appear similar in appearance to those from his previous works (in particular, Akari from Five Centimetres per Second looks like Sayuri from The Place Promised in Our Early Days). Moreover, typing out these movies’ titles gives my fingers a workout.

  • I included this screenshot just to illustrate how much detail went into the environments and depiction of common items. Here are some of the tools involved in shoe making. I am by trade a developer, so I know absolutely nothing about shoes.

  • If anyone here has played Metro: Last Light, this capture will doubtlessly evoke some of the graphical elements from Metro: Last Light, given that on the surface, water droplets, mud and even blood will splatter and smear on the player’s screen, forcing them to wipe it off to regain clarity.

  • The park Takao and Yukari frequent is the central setting in The Garden of Words, being a calm environment with with verdant foilage trees drooping into the water and a general environment that invokes a poetic, romantic atmosphere that eases one’s emotions.

  • If I am not mistaken, The Garden of Words is the second of Makoto Shinkai’s films to have a mature female protagonist, with the first being She and Her Cat. Contrasting all of his previous works, there are no cats in this film.

  • Yukari expresses an interest in Takao’s shoe making, and he decides to make a pair of shoes in her size. As her foot is being measured, Yukari admits that she needs to learn how to walk on her own, hinting at her deep personal troubles.

  • Battlefield 4 is going to be released on October 29, 2013. What does this have to do with anime, one asks? For long-time readers of my original website, I frequently compare anime to games in terms of graphical quality and story execution. My last claim was that Battlefield 3 was similar to Children Who Chase Lost Voices from Deep Below, given the anime had beautiful visuals but a somewhat hard-to-follow story. If Battlefield 4 is anything like The Garden of Words, it will have a superior campaign. Moreover, the Frostbite 3 engine will allow for similar graphical quality, but also accommodate new things that were not previously possible (such as the sweeping shots in The Garden of Words and physics-driven destruction in Battlefield 4).

  • After the rainy season ends, Takao and Yukari convince themselves that it’s better for the other to go back to their normal lives, but both sincerely wish that it would rain so that they could meet again.

  • There are a handful of unnamed characters in The Garden of Words, some of whom are Takao’s family and friends. Like his previous movies, Makoto Shinkai excels at creating stories with only a few named protagonists, unlike other anime, which have an unreasonably high number of named characters.

As the credits roll, and I am left to take in yet another beautiful Makoto Shinkai production, it hits me. The Garden of Words represents a refinement of Makoto Shinkai’s previous movies, binding together a love story with spectacular visuals. My words can do the artwork no justice, hence the decision to include some thirty images. By now, Makoto Shinkai has had sufficient experience in crafting yet another story about longing and loneliness, bringing a young, aspiring shoemaker together with a teacher caught in the midst of a scandal of sorts under raining skies in a tranquil park. As Takao Akizuki and Yukari Yukino get to know each other better, the viewer will probably recoil from the implications: Takao is merely a student, and Yukari is an instructor. By any stretch, romance between a student and teacher is a highly contested topic that I lack the background to dive into, so The Garden of Tears ends up pushing the limits for what is considered to be “socially acceptable”. Of course, this is merely one interpretation: Makoto Shinkai stated  that the original concept of “love” in Japan was to be a sort of longing in solitude, written in a different form prior to the importation of Han characters. Its usage here would therefore imply a sense of emptiness that both Takao and Yukari experience until they run into one another. As such, one might alternatively view their relationship strictly as a platonic one.

  • For those who were complaining about the weaker story elements in Makoto Shinkai’s films, I present the counterargument that Makoto Shinkai’s works are to be watched more so for their beautiful graphics: this style can’t be seen anywhere else.

  • Individuals tenacious enough to read all of the figure captions, here’s a little-known fact: I titled my review to be simple enough so that search engines can find it more effectively, with the obvious intent of ensuring that curious parties can actually find the review. I think that my unique style involving figure captions makes this one of the most unusual anime blogs around when all is said and done.

  • Recurring elements from Five Centimetres per Second, such as interior shots, sweeping cityscapes and train stations make a return here. Takao is seen working on a pair of shoes for Yukari late into the night hours here.

  • Takao’s friends inform him that her name is Miss Yukino, and that she has been absent from school due to stress and anxiety. After a male student develops a crush on her, Yukari found herself the target of rumours and bullying started by Aizawa, the student’s girlfriend. With the intent of avoiding further confrontations, Yukari elected to avoid work, retreating to the park where she met Takao, hoping she would learn to overcome her loneliness and her fears.

  • Angered by the cruelty shown to Yukari, Takao confronts Aizawa, who expresses that she is happy that ‘Miss Yukino’ is quitting teaching at the school and that she deserves the torments and rumours. In retaliation, Takao strikes her across the face, but is soon beaten by Aizawa’s companions who mock him and accuse him of falling for Yukari.

  • The rainfall is depicted acts as a very symbolic but subtle element in the movie: when Takao and Yukari first meet, it falls gently, impacting the ground softly as the two converse and gradually come to know each other better. As the film’s climax approaches, a thunderstorm hits, foreshadowing the chaos that the two will soon encounter.

  • At the time of writing, around 53 mm of rain fell in my area over the last three days. However, a wetter-than-average month in the mountains, coupled with slow-moving weather systems, has led to the rapid melting of additional snow, causing rivers to flood their banks and affecting everything downstream.

  • Escaping the rain, Takao and Yukari return to the latter’s apartment and the two spend the afternoon bonding, realising that they both have never felt so happy before. A casual viewer randomly dropping in to this scene would have missed the fight earlier, as well as the unusual circumstances surrounding their relationship.

  • Omelette rice is contemporary Japanese cuisine consisting of an omelette made with fried rice and usually topped with ketchup. Commonly depicted in a wide range of anime, it is a dish consisting of chicken rice wrapped in a thin sheet of fried egg.

  • I’ve deliberately omitted several screenshots after here: after Takao confesses to Yukari that he thinks he is falling in love with her, the latter tells him to address her properly as Miss Yukino before informing him that she is moving back to her home town. Confused and hurt by her rejection, Takao rage-quits, and Yukari runs after Takao, finding him in the stairwell outside her apartment block.

  • This is the climax of the movie: I will leave it as an exercise to readers to watch this scene for themselves and take it in. Contrasting Five Centimetres per Second, Makoto Shinkai chooses to go a far more direct route here, having his characters express all of their innermost feelings rather than keeping them suppressed, as Takaki did previously.

  • Thus ends the movie, a work I am willing to recommend to anyone. Presently, only a few anime in my collection have the honour of being unconditionally recommended to anyone (i.e. the show is suited for all audiences and I would not have any qualms about either being seen with this anime or asking people to watch it with me); besides The Garden of Tears  and Five Centimetres per Second, I also name Mobile Suit Gundam UnicornCLANNAD and CLANNAD After Story as shows that cannot be regarded merely as anime any more, being equivalent to a high-end movie or drama that is simply worth watching.

  • Tokyo is depicted in such a manner throughout The Garden of Words that I find it to greatly resemble New York City, with the garden being an analogue of Central Park. The lighting in the final scenes brings to mind the feel New York City had early on in Crysis 2.

  • Despite having failed his entrance exams, Takao continues to work at his part-time job and towards other goals. In February, Takao visits the park, and reveals the completed shoes for Yukari, along with a letter and vowing to meet with her again when he is capable of walking greater distances.

  • In the epilogue, Yukari finds another teaching position at a new school, gazing out the window and seemingly thinking of Takao in a class. Last time, in my Five Centimetres per Second post at the website, I talked about Mie Scattering, so this time, I’ll briefly outline crepuscular rays, seen outside the window. It seems that Yukari has moved to the southern islands in Japan for her new career, but back on topic, crepuscular rays are columns of sunlit air separated by darker cloud-shadowed regions. Despite seeming to converge at a point, the rays are in fact near-parallel shafts of sunlight, and their apparent convergence is a perspective effect. This is the last of my screenshots: below is my recommendation.

At the end of the day, what is the most relevant is The Garden of Tears itself; while the love story proceeds in a formulaic manner, Makoto Shinkai’s capacity to tell it in a simple, concise manner illustrate how he has since optimised the trends since Five Centimetres per Second. The story is uncluttered, concise and perhaps most importantly, decisive. For the literary-minded readers, the rain itself acts as a symbol of sorts: Takao only skips classes on rainy mornings, and much like its fleeting nature, his conversations with Yukari are similarly short until the movie’s end, where the old equilibrium breaks down completely. Unlike has previous works, the movie’s outcome is more explicit, making it clear that Takao is in control of his destiny, whereas Takaki is more prone to being swept away. Storyline aside, what shines most is (unsurprisingly) the artwork and visuals in the movie. The two years that have elapsed since Children Who Chase Lost Voices from Deep Below show in the anime, whether it be the ripples that propagate through puddles, the steam rising over cooking omelettes or the lens flare from the sun as the camera sweeps over Tokyo, Makoto Shinkai’s technique has improved, leading to vistas and visuals even more impressive than in his previous works. There is only so much I can do in words and screenshots, so my final verdict is, if, like me, the movie has not been watched yet, please go watch it.

10 responses to “The Garden of Words Review

  1. ninetybeats June 22, 2013 at 04:47

    Garden of Words sure was a nice story, but I find 5CPS still one of the better ones. In comparison to Lost voices this was an improvement story wise.
    On your title making tactics, SEO sure is an art:p

    Like

    • infinitezenith June 22, 2013 at 12:07

      I guess you could think of Makoto Shinkai’s works as being similar to the progression from Battlefield: Bad Company 2 (Five Centimetres per Second) to Battlefield 3 (Children Who Chase Lost Voices from Deep Below) and lastly, Battlefield 4 (The Garden of Words). I’m probably the only person online to have drawn those comparisons, hence my claim that I’ve got one of the most unusual discussions around😛

      As for SOE, all I can say is I want those views xD

      Like

      • ninetybeats June 23, 2013 at 00:46

        Haha we all want views:p
        I’m not a big battlefield player though, I had Battlefield 3, but didn’t play it as much as COD:BO2. I think the matches were too long and the skill level requiered was a bit out of my league. Couldn’t you make a youtube channel or something for your gaming experiences?

        Like

        • infinitezenith June 23, 2013 at 09:31

          I’d probably have a tough time getting my foot in the door, what with all the channels out there already doing the same. I was only really good with Halo 2 Vista, but since the servers shut down, I’ve been hunting for a replacement. Right now, the only game that fills the void is Team Fortress 2. Naturally, I’m open to suggestions, but I probably won’t be making a dedicated YouTube Channel…keeping this here blog updated is somewhat of a greater priority😉

          Like

          • ninetybeats June 23, 2013 at 13:58

            It’s not about who’s the biggest channel, it’s about creating your own little corner on Youtube and hopefully get noticed. It is for fun. I’m not a good player or anything, but I just enjoy making vids with friends and stuff. Making commentaries and discussing different topics. But I admit, writing is something I pick up more easily than making a vid. Making video’s is still quite a challenge.

            Like

  2. Vivace September 3, 2014 at 20:31

    How did you manage to get such a high quality screen shots?

    Like

    • infinitezenith September 3, 2014 at 20:45

      I took the screenshots from the Blu-Ray at 1080p, and because the images are automatically down-scaled to 630 by 354 (so they fit on the page), the image gets compressed, making it look a little sharper. Images that are 720p will also look much sharper when linked in this manner; hope that helps🙂

      Like

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