The Infinite Zenith

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K-On! The Movie (Eiga Keion!): A Review, Recommendation and Revisitation after Seven Years

We’re buddies from here on out!
Pictures of us together,
Our matching keychains
Will shine on forever
And always, we thank you for your smile

—Tenshi ni Fureta Yo!

With its theatrical première seven years previously, K-On! The Movie has aged very gracefully from both a thematic and technical standpoint. The film follows Houkago Tea Time shortly following their acceptance to university. With their time in high school drawing to a close, the girls attempt to come up with a suitable farewell gift for Azusa, who had been a vital member of their light music club. Feeling it best to be a surprise, they try to keep this from Azusa. When word nearly gets out, Yui, Ritsu, Mio and Mugi wind up fabricating that their “secret” is a graduation trip. The girls decide on London; after arranging for their flight and accommodations, the girls arrive in London and sightsee, before performing at a Japanese pop culture fair. Upon their return home, the girls perform for their classmates and finalise their song for Asuza. Simple, sincere and honest, K-On! The Movie represented a swan song for the K-On! franchise’s animated adaptation, making the extent of Yui, Ritsu, Mio and Mugi’s gratitude towards Azusa tangible: K-On! The Movie is a journey to say “Thank You”, and as Yui and the others discover, while their moments spent together might be finite, the treasured memories resulting from these everyday moments are infinitely valuable. Ultimately, representing the sum of these feelings is done by means of a song; music is universally regarded as being able to convey emotions, thoughts and ideas across linguistic and cultural barriers, and so, it is only appropriate that the girls decide to make a song for Azusa. However, Yui and the others initially struggle to find the right words for their song. It is serendipitous that a fib, done to keep Azusa from knowing about her graduation gift, sends the girls to London. During this trip, Azusa undertakes the role of a planner. She handles the logistics to ensure that everyone can visit their destinations of choice and on top of this, fit their travels so that they can honour a commitment to perform at a festival. At the top of her game in both keeping things organised, and looking out for Yui, Azusa is exhausted at the end of their travels.

Once they agree to writing a song, Yui, Mio, Ritsu and Mugi set about composing the lyrics for it. When they begin to draft the lyrics, they come to realise how integral Azusa has been to Houkago Tea Time, a veritable angel for the club. This is the birth of Tenshi ni Fureta Yo! (Touched by an Angel), an earnest song whose direct lyrics convey how everyone feels about Azusa. Because everyone’s spent so much time together, Azusa’s presence in Houkago Tea Time is very nearly taken for granted. It takes a trip to London for Yui and the others to discover anew what Azusa has done for everyone: from planning out the trip and fitting their itinerary to everyone’s satisfaction, to keeping an eye on the scatter-minded Yui, Azusa’s actions during the London trip act as the catalyst that reminds everyone of how her presence in the Light Music Club has helped everyone grow. Azusa is also evidently selfless, worrying about others ahead of herself: when the others notice her slowing down in the Underground, Azusa mentions that her new shoes are somewhat uncomfortable. She insists it’s fine, but Yui figures they can buy new shoes for her. Because of Houkago Tea Time’s easygoing approach to things, this detour into an adventure of sorts at Camden. However, K-On! The Movie is not an anime about travel; sightseeing is condensed into a montage, and greater emphasis is placed on the girls’ everyday moments together. Subtle, seemingly trivial moments are given more screen time than visiting the London Eye, or David Bowie’s House, reminding viewers that Houkago Tea Time is about its members, not where they go. While it is likely that any destination would have accomplished the same, visiting London, the birthplace of many famous musicians whose style have influenced the Light Music Club’s music, proved to be an appropriate choice that also sets the stage for the girls to compose their song for Azusa, showing that London had a role in inspiring Yui and the others.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • This revisitation can be seen as an exercise in nostalgia: I was primarily curious to see what a review on K-On! The Movie might look like were I to return to it again, with at least six years more of accumulated experience. I’ve previously written about K-On! The Movie and explored some of the aspects that made it worthwhile to watch; because the film was released in December, the time seemed appropriate for me to watch the film again. In particular, the opening song, Ichiban Ippai (Full of Number Ones), has a very Christmas-like quality to it.

  • On watching the film in full for the first time in a few years, I’ve come to pick up a few things that I missed earlier, and in conjunction with a keener eye for subtleties, this post is the result; my conclusion about the film’s central theme is a little more specific now, with a focus on Yui and the others crafting a memorable farewell gift for Azusa in gratitude for her participation in Houkago Tea Time. My earlier reviews focused on friendship at a much higher level, and looking back, I think that this review captures the reason for why I enjoyed the movie a shade more effectively than the earlier reviews.

  • Gratitude is the first and foremost theme in K-On! The Movie, with everything else being an ancillary aspect that augments the film’s strengths. The movie, then, succeeds in conveying the sort of scale that Naoko Yamada desired for viewers, showing the extent of everyone’s appreciation towards Azusa. This underlines Azusa’s impact on Houkago Tea Time, and so, when one returns to the televised series, all of those subtle moments suddenly become more meaningful, and more valuable.

  • The movie’s original première on December 3, 2011 is now a distant memory. I vaguely recall concluding my introductory Japanese class and finalising my term paper on the role of a protein in iron transport for bacteria. At the time, I was focused on simply surviving that semester and save my GPA, which had taken a dive after my second year, and for most of the winter term, I was similarly focused on maintaining passable grades in biochemistry and and cell and molecular biology. I exited that term on a stronger note, and with my final exams in the books, I learned that the movie would release on July 18.

  • I had decided to take the MCAT earlier that year, and this represented a major commitment from my part. From the film’s home release announcement to the day of release, time passed in the blink of an eye. K-On! The Movie was well-timed, and the day I watched it, I had spent the morning going through a full-length exam. The movie’s first forty minutes are still in Japan, and it provided plenty of time to establish the witherto’s and whyfor’s of how Houkago Tea Time end up travelling to London.

  • With its slow pacing, K-On! The Movie is very relaxing: as it turns out, Houkago Tea Time ends up overhearing classmates discuss a graduation trip and then, while focused on their own goal of gifting something special for Azusa, hide their plans by saying they’re also doing a graduation trip. This turn of events is precisely the way things Houkago Tea Time rolls, although it is notable that even while planning for the trip takes precedence, Yui’s mind never strays far from their original goal of figuring out how they can give Azusa a memorable gift.

  • Throughout the film, Yui’s determination to figure out something and efforts to maintain secrecy lead Azusa to wonder if something is amiss. If she did suspect something, things are quickly shunted aside when the girls’ plan to visit London become realised. Here, Azusa takes on the role of a tour guide, planning and coordinating itineraries for the others. The joys and drawbacks of travelling are presented in K-On! The Movie to the girls: while K-On! has long favoured gentle escapism, the movie adds an additional dimension of realism to its story through linguistic differences and challenges associated with travelling, such as the girls trying to figure out which Hotel Ibis their booking was for or when Mio’s luggage is seemingly misplaced.

  • For the most part, K-On! The Movie was very well-received, with praises being given towards the direction, sincerity and ability of the film to remain true to the atmosphere in the TV series, while at the same time, capitalising on the movie format to do something that could not have been done in a TV series. Criticisms of the film are very rare – I can count the number of the film’s detractors on one hand, and most of the gripes centered on the film’s relatively limited focus on travel, portrayal of London citizens and gripes that the film was protracted in presenting its story.

  • For the most part, my travels have never put me at a linguistic disadvantage because I can get by well enough with English, Cantonese and Mandarin in the places I visit. When I visited Laval in France for the first time for a conference, I had trouble getting around because I could not speak a word of French. Seeing Mugi and Azusa struggle with English might’ve been amusing when I first watched this, but after the humbling experience in France, I took on a newfound appreciation for all of the languages around the world. When the girls reach London City’s Hotel Ibis, it is thanks to Mio who is able to interpret things and set the girls on track for their hotel in Earls Court.

  • Skyfall was screened in November 2012, a few months after K-On! The Movie’s home release and nearly a year after its original screening in Japan. The only commonalities the two films share are that they have scenes set in London, including the Underground. While Yui and the others use the Underground to reach Earls Court, Skyfall saw James Bond pursue Raoul Silva through the Underground after he escapes MI6 custody.

  • On their first day in London, Yui and the others have a busy one as they try to make their way to their hotel. It’s misadventure after misadventure, but in spite of these inconveniences, everyone takes things in stride, going to Camden to buy Azusa new shoes, casually enjoying the Underground and, when trying to grab dinner, end up playing an impromptu performance on account of being mistaken for a band.

  • In spite of their surprise at being asked to perform, Houkago Tea Time’s showing is impressive. While it seems a little strange the girls travel with their instruments, the last several times I boarded a plane, it was with a laptop or iPad in tow, as I was either set to give a conference presentation or be involved in work. Carrying additional gear while travelling is a pain when one is alone, but with others, it’s much easier – one can simply ask their companions to look after their belongings.

  • Movies typically are scaled-up TV episodes, with superior visuals and music accompanying it; K-On! The Movie is no different, feeling distinctly like an extended episode. I particularly loved the soundtrack, which features both the motifs of the TV series and new incidental pieces that gave a bit of atmosphere to where Houkago Tea Time was while at the same time, reminding viewers that it’s still K-On!.

  • K-On! The Movie depicts London with incredible faithfulness, and perusing the official movie artbook, the precise locations of where the girls visit are given. Abbey Crossing, David Bowie’s House, West Brompton, and many other areas are on the list of places that Yui and the others visit. Their travels are set to the upbeat, energetic Unmei wa Endless! (Fate is Endless!) in a montage that highlights the girls enjoying themselves in London in their own unique manner.

  • The montage in K-On! The Movie is ideal for showing that while in London, Yui and the others have an amazing time sightseeing: the tempo would suggest that the girls’ experience is very dream like, hectic and dynamic, reminder viewers that when they are having fun, time flies. Vacations often seem to go by in a blur, and so, a montage is a very visceral way to capture this feeling. In condensing out the travel and sightseeing, the montage creates the impression that K-On! The Movie is not about London, but at the same time, it also allows the focus to remain on the girls’ aim of working out their gift for Azusa.

  • London, Japan and Hong Kong share the commonality in that they have left-hand traffic, an artefact dating back to the Roman Empire; right-hand traffic is the result of French standardisation, while Americans used right-hand traffic out of convenience for wagon operators. For Yui and the others, traffic in London would be identical to that of Japan’s, but when they encounter a “Look Right” labels on the road, they conform. These labels are also found in Hong Kong, as well: for folks like myself, they are very useful, since I instinctively look left before crossing most streets.

  • I’ve long held that the best way to truly experience a culture is to experience their food, and so, when I was in Japan, having the chance to enjoy snow crab, Kobe beef, okonomiyakiomurice and ramen was high on the highlights of my trip. In K-On! The Movie, the girls end up stopping at The Troubadour on 263–267 Old Brompton Road in Earls Court. Opened in 1954, The Troubador was a coffeehouse that has since become a café, bar and restaurant. Catching Yui’s eye early in their tour of London, the girls have breakfast here. Their Eggs Benedict is shown: it costs £9.95 (roughly 16.88 CAD with exchange rates).

  • Despite her initial reservations about all things with angular velocity, Mio is convinced to go on the London Eye. With a height of 135 metres, it is more than double the size of Hong Kong’s Observation Wheel and during K-On! The Movie, was the highest public viewing point in London. Since the movie’s release in 2011 (and the home release in 2012), The Shard opened and now offers London’s highest observation deck.

  • The girls rest here near The Royal Menagerie on the west end of the Tower of London, a major landmark that has variously been used as a mint, armoury and presently, the home of the Crown Jewels. Adjacent to the Tower of London is a modern office block and fish and chips shops. While it would be a tight schedule, the girls’ tour is possible to carry out within the course of a day. To really take in the sights and sounds, however, I would imagine that two to three full days is more appropriate.

  • Ritsu and the others run into Love Crisis following their performance at the sushi restaurant, and are invited to perform at a Japanese Culture Fair. The girls agree to the performance even though the timing will be a bit tight, and when Azusa hesitates, the others reassure her that it’ll be fine. Because they are to be performing in front of an English audience, Yui and the others feel it might be useful to translate some of their songs to English. Strictly speaking, preserving the meaning is of a lesser challenge than finding the words with the correct syllables to match the melody.

  • The Ibis at Earl’s Court, while being a bit more dated, has attentive staff and is situated in a good location, being close to public transit. By comparison, the Ibis London City is located a stone’s throw to the London city centre and the Tower of London. The choice to have the girls book lodgings at Earl’s Court, in a comparatively quieter part of London, allows the film to also show Yui and the others spending downtime together while not sightseeing. Here, they begin working on translating their songs for their performance at the Japanese culture fair.

  • The performance itself is set at the Jubilee Gardens adjacent to the River Thames and London Eye. The introduction into the culture festival features a sweeping panorama over the area, taking viewers through the spokes on the London Eye. It’s one of the more impressive visuals in K-On! The Movie and really shows that this is no mere extended episode: I’m particularly fond of movies because they provide the opportunity to use visuals not seen in TV series. Here, the girls react in surprise that Sawako has shown up.

  • During their performance, Yui is spurred on by a baby in the crowd and plays with more energy as the concert progresses, even improvising lyrics into Gohan wa Okazu. Whether or not Houkago Teatime plays for the people they know or not, this has very little bearing on the enthusiasm and energy the girls put into their song. Personal or not, each performance is spirited conveys that Houkago Tea Time’s music is universally moving, whether they are playing for a crowd of folks in London, or for Azusa as a thank you gift.

  • It turns out that as a place to have a graduation trip, there is no better option than London, England: Houkago Tea Time’s style draws inspiration from British artists, and the songs produced for K-On! have a mass appeal for their simplicity, earnest and charm found from the saccharine nature of the lyrics. After the concert draws to a close, the girls depart home for Japan, with Azusa falling asleep immediately from exhaustion. A snowfall begins in London, bringing the girls’ trip to a peaceful close.

  • Back in Japan, Ritsu and the others attempt to convince Sawako to give them permission to host a farewell concert for their classmates. To her colleagues and other students, Sawako presents herself as professional and caring, attempting to distance herself from her Death Devil days, but in front of Houkago Tea Time, she’s less motivated and occasionally partakes in actions that are of dubious legality. At the end of the day, however, Sawako does care deeply for her students, and so, decides to allow the concert.

  • One of the other teachers is opposed to the idea of a concert and on the morning things kick off, Sawako does her utmost to keep him from finding out. While unsuccessful, this instructor does not seem to mind Houkago Tea Time quite as much, suggesting that Sawako’s Death Devil band were rowdier back in the day to the point of being a nuisance.

  • Compared to the more colourful segments in K-On! The Movie, the final segments depicting the girls drafting out their song for Azusa are much more faded, almost melancholy, in nature, hinting that all things must come to an end. Kyoto Animation has long utilised colour to make the emotional tenour of a scene clear in their drama series; from CLANNAD to Violet Evergarden, time of day, saturation and the choice of palette are all used to great effect. Traditionally, comedies have seen a lesser dependence on colour and lighting, so for these effects to appear in K-On! show that the series has matured.

  • The K-On! The Movie‘s home release was only twenty four days from the day of my MCAT, and one of the dangers about this was that reviewing the movie so close to the MCAT might’ve taken my focus from the exam. In the end, watching the movie and writing about it was very cathartic, and I found myself lost in each moment: seeing Mio and the others sprint across the school rooftop with a carefree spirit was a light moment that really captured what K-On! was about. The movie helped me relax, and in conjunction with support from friends, some time management skills and the usual efforts of studying, I ended up finishing the exam strong.

  • Audiences thus come to learn how Tenshi ni Fureta Yo! came about. This is the song that got me into K-On!, and curious to know how the series reached its culmination, I stepped back and watched everything from episode one.  With this modernised talk on K-On! The Movie very nearly finished, I note that it was very enjoyable to go back and rewatch this film under different circumstances, then write about it with a new perspective and style.

  • Like a good wine, K-On! The Movie improved with age. My original score for the movie was a nine of ten, an A grade. However, revisiting the movie and seeing all of the subtleties in the film, coupled with recalling watching the film to unwind from studying for the MCAT, led me to realise that this film had a very tangible positive impact on me. Consequently, I am going to return now and give the film a perfect ten of ten, a masterpiece: for a story of pure joy that was successful in helping me regroup, and for being every bit as enjoyable as it was seven years ago, K-On! The Movie had a real impact on me.

With crisp animation, attention paid to details, a solid aural component and a gentle soundtrack, K-On! The Movie is executed masterfully to bring this story of gratitude to life for viewers. Its staying power and timeless quality comes from a story that is immediately relatable: many viewers have doubtlessly wondered how to best express thanks for those who have helped them through so much, and more often than not, found that simple gestures of appreciation can often be the most meaningful. Naoko Yamada mentioned in an interview that one of the challenges about K-On! The Movie was trying to scale it up to fit the silver screen. This challenge is mirrored in the film, where Yui wonders how to create a gift of appropriate scale to show everyone’s appreciation for Azusa; in the end, just as how the girls decide on a gift that is appropriately scaled, Yamada’s film ends up covering a very focused portrayal of Houkago Tea Time that works well with the silver screen: less is more, and by focusing on a single thing, the movie ends up being very clear and concise in conveying its theme. A major part of K-On!‘s original strength was instilling a sense of appreciation for the everyday, mundane things in life; the film’s success in scaling things up is from its ability to take something as simple as finding a gift to express thanks and then meticulously detailing how this gift matured over time into the final product viewers know as Tenshi ni Fureta Yo!. K-On! The Movie remains as relevant today as it did when it first premièred seven years ago: even for those who have never seen K-On!‘s televised series, the movie is self-contained and the themes stand independently of a priori knowledge. After all this time, I have no difficulty in recommending K-On! The Movie to interested viewers; the film is every bit as enjoyable and meaningful as it was seven years previously.

Sayonara no Asa ni Yakusoku no Hana o Kazarō (Maquia: When the Promised Flower Blooms): A Review and Full Recommendation

“I would rather share one lifetime with you than face all the ages of this world alone.” —Arwen

Maquia is a member of the Iorph, an ancient race of beings with uncommonly long life. They spend their days weaving Hibiol, cloths that chronicle their history. However, the peace is broken when Mezarte, a neighbouring kingdom, attacks: many Iorph are killed, and Maquia’s friend, Leilia, is taken captive. Maquia herself is tangled in the Hibiol and hauled into the skies when one of the Mezarte’s flying mounts, Renato, succumbs to disease and goes berserk. She crashes into a forest and comes across an ambushed caravan, where she finds a baby in the arms of his mother. Maquia decides to take the baby in, naming him Ariel, and travels to a village where a woman named Mido takes them in. Meanwhile, Mezarte’s Renato begin dying off, and the king attempts to hold onto power by introducing Iorph blood into their kingdom; Leilia is forced into an arranged marriage with the prince of Mezarte. When Maquia learns of this, she travels to Mezarte with Ariel to try and save Leilia. Their rescue is unsuccessful, and Maquia moves to Dorail, where she takes on a job as a waitress. Ariel becomes a young man. Struggling with his identity, he rejects Maquia as his mother and joins Mezarte’s armed forces. Ariel marries Dita, while Krim, frustrated by the turn of events, kidnaps Maquia and convinces the other nations to declare war on Mezarte. During the invasion, Maquia stumbles upon Dita and Ariel’s home, where she helps Dita deliver her child. Krim confronts Leilia and is shot in the process, bleeding out. Leilia later sees her daughter before flying off with Maquia and the last Renato. In his old age, Maquia visits an elderly Ariel, who had lived a full life, and watches as he peacefully dies. She cries for the pain of the loss, but also feels that there was happiness in equal measure. Sayonara no Asa ni Yakusoku no Hana o Kazarō (Let’s Decorate the Promised Flowers in the Morning of Farewells, Maquia: When the Promised Flower Blooms in English and Sayoasa for brevity) is a P.A. Works film that was released in February of this year in Japan, marking the first original feature-length title that Mari Okada (who’d previously worked on The Anthem of the Heart) has directed.

During its run, Sayoasa explores notions of familial bonds, love and the passage of time in a high fantasy setting, making use of the Iorph’s longevity to convey the range of experiences that one might encounter in raising a child through Maquia’s perspective. Blessed with a long lifespan, Maquia’s chief, Racine, warns her about the risks of becoming attached to those with a shorter lifespan, but in spite of this warning, Maquia chooses to take in a baby and raise him as a mother would. Although initially lacking in experience, and always prone to tears, Maquia is shown to be doing her best. From happiness to sorrow, Maquia experiences the full spectrum of emotions present in life, a far cry from the static, isolated state of being the Iorph live in. Maquia learns that outside of her old world, things are constantly changing and do not stand still as she’d previously known: in raising Ariel, Maquia comes to appreciate everything from joy to despair, and that happiness can accompany pain, as well. This is contrary to Racine’s warnings early in the film, and in its presentation, Sayoasa suggests that it is precisely the coexistence of happiness and sorrow that constitute a life well-lived. While immortality (or extended life) is often considered to be a blessing when folks are asked about it, fiction often explores the idea that doing something meaningful with the time that one is given has a greater value than spending an eternity locked in tedium. J.R.R. Tolkien briefly touches on this through Arwen, who chooses a mortal life with Aragorn. Despite knowing the sorrow that Aragon’s mortality might bring her, she accepts this. By comparison, Tolkien’s Elves are portrayed as being tragic, who have become encumbered with watching life transition to death: Tolkien describes mortality as the “Gift of Men”, that a finite life and the rest following life is not a curse. To follow one’s heart in a finite life with its sorrows and joys is the path Arwen chooses. While Maquia might be confined to the realm of a long life, she will carry her experiences with her forever – the Iorph are not immortal like Tolkien’s Elves, but Maquia’s interactions with the outside world gives her a much fuller, richer experience than the status quo that she’d lived in previously.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • The Iorph’s homeland is designed to convey a sense of bygone splendour, of a once-great civilisation whose time has passed: vast crumbling structures suggest a mighty society in decline, and furthering this feeling are the Iorph themselves, who spend their days chronicling their histories in cloth without much thought towards the outside world. One of the greatest challenges I encountered for this post was cutting down the number of screenshots down to thirty: there’s so much scenery that it was difficult to pick screenshots that showcase some of the artwork in Sayoasa and those that are relevant to the narrative.

  • Maquia is an orphan and is someone who fears loneliness; the chief of their clan advises Maquia that the only way to stave off pain is to avoid seeking out attachment. While a possible answer for avoiding pain, the reality is that neither happiness nor sorrow can exist in the absence of the other. This moment indicates that the Iorph have become a passive society, choosing to avoid trouble rather than confront it. Their ways create a sense of antiquity, which in turn provides audiences with a context for Maquia and her development throughout Sayoasa.

  • Unlike Tolkien’s Elves, who remain excellent craftsmen and healers, as well as being able serve as warriors, the Ioprh seem defenseless against aggressors. When the nation of Mezarte attack, it is unsurprising that the Iorph are overwhelmed. The Mezarte bring with them dragon-like mounts called Renato: a cursory glance suggests that they are named after the Latin name “Renatus”, which is “to be born again”, and are probably named to signify the rebirth of something glorious.

  • The diseased Renato flies off into the night skies after crashing through the temple housing the Hibiol weavings. In the chaos, a distressed Maquia is hauled along for the ride. This accident sets in motion the remainder of Sayoasa, and here, one can get a sense of scale of the landscapes in Sayoasa: there are moments where things look photo-realistic, attesting to the incredible visual quality within this film.

  • When Maquia comes to, she finds an infant in a tent, and decides to take him in. My initial impressions were that this caravan was probably attacked by the Mezarte forces en route to the Iorph, but regardless of who the perpetrators were, it is the moment where Maquia meets Ariel and decides to look after him. A fair portion of Sayoasa has Maquia struggle to understand what being a mother means, although her lack of knowledge is offset by a desire to preserve life.

  • After leaving the caravan with the infant in her arms, the sun breaks over the horizon, bathing the land in a warm light. The moment is magical to Maquia, who comes to associate the scent of an infant with that of the sun. After the terror of the night, sunrise indicates a new beginning. The prominent use of of yellows and oranges in this scene creates warmth: sunrises in different contexts hold different meanings, and usually, the combination of saturation and hues serve to communicate to audiences what that sunrise is meant to evoke.

  • Wandering through the countryside, Maquia eventually finds a cottage and meets Mido, who takes them in. She eventually names the infant Ariel, a Hebrew name meaning “Lion of God”. While a male name, English-speakers have used it as a female name, as well. Mido has two other children, Lang and Deol, who initially regard Maquia and Ariel as little more than a curiosity. However, as Maquia spends more time with Mido, Lang and Deol come to regard Maquia and Ariel as family, as well.

  • The passage of time in Sayoasa is quite ambiguous: were it not for a change in setting and Ariel’s aging, it would be quite difficult to tell the passage of time. The passage of time in The Fellowship of The Ring is something that Peter Jackson modified in his adaptation, being set in a much shorter time period. Tolkien originally had Frodo set out seventeen years after Bilbo’s 111st birthday, but in the movies, Frodo leaves within weeks of the party. The condensed timeline is likely intended to convey a sense of urgency, since Tolkien’s original text had the hobbits move at a much slower pace, one that would’ve slowed the movie experience.

  • Mido admits that being a mother is largely something that one must learn through experience, and despite her own difficulties, manages to get by. This moment allows Maquia to listen to Mido’s experiences and gain from them. Mido later dyes Maquia’s hair a light brown to match Ariel’s, helping conceal her identity as an Iorph: while Helm’s inhabitants are largely neutral towards them, their remarks also suggest that the Iorph might be regarded with some mistrust, or even hostility, because of their isolation from the world.

  • The pastoral setting in and around the village of Helm is reminiscent of The Shire, a verdant and peaceful location far removed from the worries of the world. Like Jackson’s adaptation of Lord of the RingsSayoasa makes extensive use of colours in the environment to clearly indicate the atmosphere. In Sayoasa, life and death are presented as natural events in life: Ariel’s first learning about death comes when the family dog passes away. Maquia is still green with respect to this, and she dissolves in tears, as well. Lang makes her promise to be stronger for Ariel’s sake.

  • Maquia is shown to care deeply for Ariel, and teaches him how to weave the Hibiol cloth, as well. Looking after Ariel, and helping out Mida, the seasons pass in this sleepy village. However, other children in the village, including Dita, find Ariel’s relationship with Maquia unusual and tease him for it. Dita later returns to apologise, but because of sudden news that Leilia is now entering an arranged marriage, Maquia leaves and heads for the capital to try and save her. She takes Ariel along, and Dita is unable to deliver her message.

  • On a vessel to the capital, Maquia encounters Krim. A male Iorph, Krim is voiced by Yūki Kaji (Hanasaku Iroha‘s Koichi Tanemura. Maquia is voiced by Manaka Iwami (Hotaru Hoshikawa in New Game!!), while Miyu Irino (Saji Crossroad of Gundam 00 and Amanchu Advance‘s Peter) provides Ariel’s voice. Some familiar names also return in Sayoasa: Racine is voiced by Miyuki Sawashiro (Strike Witches‘ Perinne H. Clostermann, Masami Iwasawa from Angel Beats! and Sword Art Online II‘s Sinon), Ai Kayano plays Leilia (Saori Takebe of Girls und Panzer, Mocha Hoto from GochiUsa and Chisaki Hiradaira from Nagi no Asukara), Dita is played by Yōko Hikasa (K-On!‘s Mio Akiyama), to name a new.

  • The capital of Mezarte is a beautiful city, resembling the Commonwealth of Athens’ capital from Break Blade. Fantastical settings in anime have always been of an exceptional calibre, and P.A. Works did a phenomenonal job in Sayoasa: it is a compliment when I say that the locations of Sayoasa are comparable to those of Peter Jackson’s Middle earth. The capital of Mezarte has the same glory as Minas Tirith, being a vast city built in a beautiful location.

  • Thirty screenshots is not enough of a space to capture every moment in Sayoasa, but in the interest of keeping the post of a manageable length, thirty screenshots is what I will have. Here, I’ve got one of the Renato, being used as a stead to carry Leilia during the day of her wedding. Krim and several other Iorph agents manage to infiltrate the processions and create a disruption, allowing Krim to take Leilia.

  • The rescue is ultimately unsuccessful: when Maquia learns Leilia is pregnant, she hesitates, and decides to leave Leilia. Maquia and Krim go their separate ways here: while Maquia consents to leave Leilia (and in doing so, represents the choice to look to the future), Krim resolves to do what he can to save Leilia. The next time they meet, Krim will remark that Maquia’s life was one of general happiness, as she was able to experience a wide range of things, whereas Leilia became confined within the Mezarte capital after her child did not appear to display any Iorph characteristics.

  • The moody industrial town of Dorail is where Maquia and Ariel settle down next. Initial struggles cause Maquia to lash out at Ariel, but the two later reconcile. Maquia takes up a job as a waitress in a tavern, while Ariel begins working in the forges. In Dorial, vast industrial machines can be seen, covering the area in eternal gloom; it’s a far cry from the blue skies of the capital, and the open spaces in Helm.

  • As he grows older, Ariel becomes increasingly embarrassed by the notion that his coworkers have of him: Maquia outwardly resembles someone who is fifteen, and with Ariel at roughly the same age, some wonder if he and Maquia have eloped or similar. While working, Maquia encounters Lang at the tavern: he’s become a soldier for Mezarte and upon meeting Maquia, they spend time catching up.

  • The monarchy in Mezarte is presented as being ineffectual and weak: the rulers seem to place an undue emphasis on power and the symbols of power, at the expense of their nation. With the Renato dying off, and Leilia failing to bear any offspring with Iorph characteristics, Mezarte’s leadship grow desperate, indicating that their hold on the world wanes while other powers rise. Details like these, while never explicitly naming the state of the world, serve to nonetheless help with world-building, and Sayoasa‘s world is as intriguing as those seen in P.A. Works’ other titles.

  • For her perceived failures, Leilia becomes locked away and forbidden from seeing her child, driving her to despair. Forgotten and abandoned, Leilia’s only question is how her daughter, Medmel, is doing. The prince of Mezarte appears powerless to do anything about her situation, mirroring the nation’s own decay over time. This brings to mind Gondor and its decline over the ages: in its quest to recruit ancient powers to preserve their rule, the monarchy in Mezarte appears no different than the rulers of Gondor, who cared more for their past than their present.

  • Maquia is devastated when Ariel announces his intention to join the armed forces. Prior to leaving, Ariel encounters Lang and laments not being able to do more for Maquia, and when the time comes, the two part on uncertain terms. Maquia is taken by Krim here to an unknown location subsequently. When other nations begin mounting an assault, Krim leaves for the royal palace, and Maquia makes her way outside. During the combat sequences, the incidental music marks a shift to the motifs that Kenji Kawai is best known for, resembling the music from Gundam 00 and Ip Man.

  • When I first began watching Sayoasa, I had no idea that Kawai would be composing the music for the film: the motifs for the Iorph and Maquia are quite unlike anything that I’d previously heard from Kawai. However, I began recognising his signature style in some of the more melancholy pieces, and by the time the fighting in Mezartes began, there was little doubt in my mind that Kawai had composed the film’s soundtrack. Krim and Leilia had once been in a relationship, and when his efforts to bring Leilia back fails, he attempts to immolate them both. Krim sustains a fatal wound subsequently,

  • The invasion of Mezarte begins with a naval bombardment. While Mezarte might be a dying empire, with a decadent and ineffective leadership, audiences nonetheless feel compelled to back their armed forces because of the personal connection: both Lang and Ariel are fighting for their lives against the invading forces. At this point, soldiers on both sides have access to single-action rifles, but the close quarters forces combatants on both sides to rely on their bayonets. The fighting and death is interspersed with scenes of Maquia helping Dita give birth after the latter goes into labour.

  • When Ariel and Dita’s child is safe, Maquia finds Ariel on the battlefield with an injury. Years of concern and regret manifest here: Ariel is genuinely sorry for having left Maquia’s side so suddenly, and addresses her as mother once more.  The two reconcile and part ways: Ariel returns home to Dita and finds their child, while Maquia frees the remaining Renato and takes to the skies.

  • Leilia gains closure when she meets Medmel. Feeling as though she’s finally found peace, she jumps off the edge of the palace, and Maquia catches her. The two fly off on the Renato back to their homeland. I note that owing to release patterns, any search for the term “Maquia” will yield results for the film first, rather than for the district in Peru’s Requena province or a family-run inn in Pontevedra, Spain. While I’m early to the party as far as bloggers go, the film’s screening in theatres around North America mean no shortage of reviews for the film are available for reading.

  • Reviewers universally found Sayoasa a generally enjoyable film. Poignant and sentimental, the film is described as being imaginative and heart-melting, praised for its exceptional visuals and critiqued for leaving some items unresolved. In a rare instance, I am largely in agreement with existing reviews for Sayoasa, although personally, I enjoyed the film enough to give it a recommendation and be more generous with my scoring – I think that the film has earned its A grade (a nine of ten) for being very captivating and immersive in spite of its flaws.

  • Now that Daylight Savings has ended, this side of the world has darkened again, and the autumn has given way from the cool, sunny days to cold and wet days. I am someone whose disposition is impacted by the weather, and weather of late has resulted in greater melancholy and lethargy, as well as declining motivation. However, there are ways of combating this – under rainy skies today, I went out for dim sum at a local restaurant that has some of the best deep-fried squid this side of the city. Good food is a phenomenal tonic for the spirit, and despite the rest of today being rainy, I was in good enough spirits to write out this post, vacuum and push further in Destiny 2, which I got for free as a part of the promotion for the Foresaken expansion.

  • Sayoasa returns Maquia to the sleepy village of Helm, where an elderly Ariel passes away peacefully after a full life. Life and death is always a very tricky topic, and death inevitably brings sadness. In Chinese culture, death is accepted as a natural part of life, not to be feared, but also is something rarely discussed for fear of bringing about ill fortune. However, for Maquia, separation is still something that she finds difficult, and so, cries for his passing and the treasured memories they shared together.

  • I still recall hearing about Sayoasa during the midsummer of last year, watching beautiful trailer and reading that director Okada intended Sayoasa to be a film about human drama, meetings and departures that audiences can relate to. Catching only glimpses of the Iorph settlement and closeups in the film, I had no idea what the movie would entail. The movie released in Japan in February and became available in July across North America, and I was avoiding all spoilers. The Blu Rays became available in late October, allowing me to finally watch and write about the film.

  • Having spent the entirety of Sayoasa portraying the bonds between Maquia and Ariel, audiences can tangibly feel the sense of loss that Maquia experiences. The weather stands in stark contrast to Maquia’s sorrow – it is the same beautiful blue skies that she and Ariel have known. The choice to have Ariel’s death come on a beautiful day is a reminder that life and death are very natural parts of reality, and that for better or worse, things do continue on.

  • This post represents a small sample of the beautiful moments in Sayoasa, and for anyone who did end up reading all the way to this point, I remark that one might have wasted their time: Sayoasa is something to be experienced, rather than read about. If you’ve not done so already, kindly stop reading this post and go check the film out. I won’t be bothered: I’m more concerned about pushing my way through Destiny 2‘s campaign and debating whether or not Battlefield V is worth getting, especially considering that the Arras map looks almost identical to this screenshot. In blog news, I’ve fully migrated the site’s screenshots now, so there’s no worry about screenshots disappearing once Flickr actions their promise to delete old photos, and looking ahead into December, besides another instalment in CLANNAD ~After Story~, I will also be writing about The World in Colours and Anima Yell, the latter of which I’ve fallen quite far behind on.

From a narrative perspective, Sayoasa deals predominantly with a direct theme, in depicting the experiences one has over the course of a lifetime, and the complexities of the world around Maquia that she is made to adapt to. There are numerous secondary stories that are told in a broken pattern; like real life, it is not possible to know of every individual’s story in full, and that our impressions of others are constrained to what we see of them. The story thus stands well enough on its own: there’s enough going on to keep viewers engaged, but not enough to overwhelm them. Maquia herself is likeable as a lead character, stumbling through things she’s unfamiliar with, but also displaying enough resilience to adapt to her circumstances. The core of Sayoasa, already enjoyable, is augmented by P.A. Works’ exceptional visuals and the musical genius of Kenji Kawai. From the structures of the Iorph homeland, to beautiful countryside around Helm, the vast capital city’s majestic structures and the industrial gloom of Dorail, every location is rendered in incredible, life-like detail. Subtle elements, from the lighting to water effects, further enhance the strength of the artwork, immersing viewers into Maquia’s world. Meanwhile, Kawai’s music creates incidental music that genuinely captures the wistfulness and sorrow that permeates Sayoasa. In this film’s soundtrack is quite different from the bombastic tones that Kawai is best known for (e.g. Gundam 00, Ip Man, Higurashi: When They Cry and the live-action Death Note movies); use of strings and harps gives Sayoasa‘s music a very distinct feeling, capturing Maquia’s feelings. However, traces of Kawai’s style can be heard in the more dramatic pieces, such as when Maquia rescues Leilia after she reunites with her daughter, or during the combat sequences. Altogether, Sayoasa is a highly entertaining film that presents a message of what makes life worth living in a highly visceral, tangible manner; this is a movie I can easily recommend for viewers.

MythBusters meets Makoto Shinkai: Addressing Myths Surrounding Kimi no Na Wa (Your Name)

“This is the show. It’s like four minutes of science and then ten minutes of me hurting myself.” –Adam Savage, MythBusters

It has been two years to the day that Makoto Shinkai’s Your Name premièred in Japanese theatres – the film was counted a veritable masterpiece by some and saw overwhelmingly positive reception in the days following its launch, for its exceptional visuals and a coherent, moving story that ended up being very satisfying to take in. Your Name was screened internationally to acclaim, and around the world, the film was lauded as being one of Shinkai’s strongest. However, as is the norm for anime dealing with such a broad range of topics and themes, numerous assertions, and the occasional untruth, sometimes arise. In this post, the central aim will be to deal with some of the more persuasive, and occasionally blatantly false, claims surrounding the movie. There are four that particularly stand out, and I will, as Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman have done for MythBusters, I will be methodically going through each of the five claims and determine whether or not each holds any merit. As with MythBusters, each claim will end up in one of three categories: something that is “confirmed” holds weight and is backed by substantial evidence, oftentimes, from the authors, producers or staff themselves. A claim that is “plausible” is one that may hold true given observations seen in the work itself, and “busted” claims are those that either lack substantial evidence to indicate they are true, or else stand in contradiction with observations seen within the work itself. Below, I explore each of the four myths surrounding Your Name, and with my particular brand of exploration, offer insight as to what I found the outcome of each assertion should be.

Taki and Mitsuha’s meeting is undeserved

From a certain perspective, the happy ending that Taki and Mitsuha ended up receiving in Your Name came across as contrived and unearned, and that a superior ending would have been for the two to walk by one another without anything else occurring. For these individuals, their fateful meeting at the film’s end diminished their experience, who feel that neither Taki or Mitsuha have genuinely earned their ending:

My big problem with the happy ending in Your Name.[sic] is that it felt too contrived. I felt that neither Mitsuha nor Taki earned their happy ending, which relied heavily on an implausible deux ex machina. I felt cheated, because the Shinkai went for a cliched conclusion, and that cheapened the impact of the drama for me.

I dislike happy endings in my choice of fiction, in general. I think happy endings are a lie that people actively seek because they can’t accept the shitty mess that is real life. I think good endings are the ones which realistically portray the cost of all their characters’ actions and why, in the end, the choices were worth it, despite what they gave up in exchange.

Individuals further argue that reality is not about giving people happy endings and in some cases, have even gone so far as to say that Makoto Shinkai had intended to write a distance-themed ending similar to that of Five Centimeters per Second. However, throughout Your Name, the image of the red ribbon is very prevalent. This red ribbon of fate, as it is commonly known, is meant to symbolise being bound together by some force beyond our comprehension. In conjunction with the persistent and forward use of braided cords, as well as notions of musubi, or, a coming together of, it is clear that Your Name aims to speak to notions of connection. Something has brought Taki and Mitsuha together, and for better or worse, causes their lives to be intertwined in ways that they had thought impossible. Using extraordinary circumstances to speak about love, Shinkai’s use of symbolism is meant to suggest that love works in enigmatic ways.

  • Before I go further into this discussion, I address the page quote: it’s meant to set the stage for the tone of this post, where a few sentences of it show what the reality behind some claims are, and the rest of it is me making wisecracks about some of the beliefs. Now, we formally begin, and I open by mentioning that all of the happy couples that I know state that their meeting was happenstance, and that once they’d met, something convinced them that this was what they were looking for. This is the fate, 緣份 in my tongue, 運命 in Japanese, that my parents say drive relationships. The complexity of love is such that it is likened to the supernatural, and Your Name definitely strove to convey that there is a degree of magic in love and relationships, as well as how some people meet.

  • Thus, to say that it was deus ex machina that brings Taki and Mitsuha together, and that neither of them “earned” their happy ending is indicative of someone who lacks understanding of what love is. Your Name‘s ending is by no means clichéd because the film was setting up the possibility of a reunion with its symbolism, and the ending audiences got shows that some occurrences in life, though beyond our ability to fully comprehend, can work out in peoples’ favour. Optimistic, open-minded individuals accept things as they occur, making the most of their moment, while pessimists tend to leave their heads in the sand, oblivious of the world progressing around them.

  • The payoff at the end of Your Name comes as a stroke of fate precisely of the sort that bring people together: had Your Name aimed to set up an ending similar to Five Centimeters per Second, Shinkai would have dispensed with the focus on cords, braiding and the red string imagery that is so prevalent in the movie. Willfully ignoring the symbols in a film and attempting to force one’s own opinions into them, contrary to Shinkai’s application of the symbols, is to suggest that Shinkai’s intentions are irrelevant. In this case, the quoted individual asserts that the theme of Your Name is that the “vague yet aching sense of clinging to memory underpins the entire point of the movie”.

  • This is wrong: Shinkai had previously covered the dangers of clinging onto memories and a shadow of one’s desire through Five Centimeters per Second. Takaki falls into a depression and breaks up with a girlfriend because he was not able to live in the present and appreciate where he was, longing after an idealised fantasy. By comparison, while Mitsuha and Taki continue to feel as though they are forgetting something, both continue moving ahead with their lives, graduating from school and transitioning into their occupations. Besides suggesting the individual quoted misunderstood Five Centimeters per Second (which does not romanticise waiting for the impossible), it is clear that the individual in question missed the point of Your Name, as well.

  • I’ll close off by remarking that to be so dismissive of happy endings is to hold a pessimistic outlook of humanity and the world – while there are plenty of reasons why people might be pessimists, I am of the mind that online, most people hold a pessimistic, or even nihilistic worldview for the sake of attention. As such, folks who make broad, sweeping statements about their lives in response to one film are doing so without any concrete basis; perhaps they simply cannot accept that their life lacks colour and purpose, and so, are quick to write off any happy endings as being inconsistent with their worldview, rather than making a conscious effort to change themselves and their outlook.

That the two come together in the end, then, is the culmination of these signs and their experiences. Had Taki and Mitsuha missed one another, it would completely contradict what Shinkai had intended to go for – this would show that no amount of effort, natural or supernatural, could accommodate love. Aside from yielding a highly unsatisfactory ending, having the two pass by another would defeat the sum of the symbolism, betraying the audience’s expectations. Five Centimeters per Second had Takaki consciously choose not to worry about whether or not the woman at the train crossing was indeed Akari, precisely because it indicated Takaki’s willingness to move on, to let go of his past. No indicator of divine intervention was given in Five Centimeters per Second, and distance was meant to illustrate that Takaki had lost sight of why he was in love to begin with. The same cannot be said for Your Name, where conscious decision to act on a feeling and pursue it, coupled with a bit of supernatural influence, allows Taki and Mitsuha to come together. As a result, Your Name could not have been successful with any other ending.

Verdict: Busted

The film is an allegory for the March 2011 Tohoku Earthquake

March 2011 saw one of the most powerful earthquakes to strike modern Japan: this earthquake was followed by a devastating tsunami that ravaged the Tohoku region, and also resulted in the Fukushima nuclear disaster, which is second only to the Chernobyl disaster in 1986 in terms of severity. The earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster wiped entire rural towns out and created an exclusion zone around the now-derelict power plant; the impact on Japanese communities, both rural and urban, was strongly felt. Being located along the Ring of Fire, and being in the path of typhoons means that the Japanese are no strangers to natural disasters. Stoically accepting their fate and making the most of their circumstance, forces of nature are the focus of many Japanese films: people always wind up rising to the occasion and surviving. Because of these elements were quite obvious, many news outlets assert that this film was meant to be an allegory for the response to and aftermath of the Tohoku Earthquake; the imagery is very strong, with scenes of wreckage surrounding Itormori as great in scale as the destruction wrecked by the tsunami, and the eerie silence of the twin-craters captures the subdued, almost supernatural feeling in an exclusion area. However, it would seem quite far-fetched to say that the events of the Tohoku Earthquake directly influenced Your Name – after all, Your Name is ostensibly a love story.

  • When the Tohoku Earthquake occurred, I was in the middle of the second undergraduate year, and news of the disaster was all over the news: I was waiting for organic chemistry lecture to begin and was reading about the events as they were unfolding. The scale and scope of the disaster were unknown at the time, and it was only later that the reach of the devastation became known. I donated to relief efforts, and time passed; the earthquake faded to the back of my mind as I busied myself with summer research.

  • Two years later, the Great Flood of 2013 hit Southern Alberta, bringing the disasters to my doorstep. The Bow overflowed its banks in the evening of June 20, and forced an evacuation of the entire downtown core, as well as communities surrounding the city. I saw for myself the power of rising waters and donated to relief efforts: the recovery was astounding as people came together to overcome challenges. The fact is that natural disasters are a part of our world, and for better or worse, people will find ways to recover and continue living.

  • As heartbreaking as natural disasters are, they can also bring out the best in people. In the case of Your Name, Makoto Shinkai likely utilised the impact event to show the resilience of the human spirit, specifically, that even when people are separated, powerful positive emotions can prevail over this. As a result, the inclusion of Tiamat’s collision with the surface is likely meant to reinforce this notion, and the film is unlikely to have reached the hearts of so many viewers had it chosen to focus on a strictly comedic or realistic approach.

  • The Itomori disaster is ultimately a central aspect of Your Name, although it is the human aspects that are ultimately the most important to consider: Your Name shows both an effort to make a difference in the presence of existing knowledge and also, how people endure and move on following disasters. I did not cover the topic to any extent in my original review beyond a short blurb about it, as I felt the disaster to be less critical at the time, but looking back, with the knowledge of why Shinkai added it, in retrospect, it is clear that my original review is missing the mention of the strength of human resilience and spirit that being aware of the disaster piece brings out.

  • Beyond this, however, the general themes and messages of my original Your Name discussion remain quite unchanged. I wrap up this section’s screenshots with the remark that there’s an eerie beauty about the destruction surrounding Itomori. The exclusion zone surrounding Chernobyl and Fukushima are similarly places of contrast, although they differ from the fictional Itomori impact crater in that the presence of radioactive particles and emissions make them much more dangerous places to be in.

As it turns out, Makoto Shinkai himself stated in an interview that the earthquake had a profound impact on him. In the days following, he travelled to Natori in Miyagi, and saw there a scene of total juxtaposition: above was a beautiful blue sky, peaceful and serene, and below, the ruins of towns, farms and roads. Realising the scale of the destruction, and that it just so happened that this area was made to bear the full brunt of the tsunami, Shinkai felt that natural disasters could happen anywhere, at any time. This was the raw strength and beauty of nature, and so, Shinkai wondered, if one could be given the power of foresight against a disaster, what would one do? What could one do? As time passed, and Shinkai returned to Natori, he saw the town rebuilt. The same ocean that had shattered the city years before was now back to being a part of the background, beautiful and majestic. This contrast in nature inspired Shinkai, and into his love story, he weaves powerful disaster imagery to show that nature is beautiful, terrible and above all, fair. In his story, Shinkai hopes to remind audiences that disasters are forgotten with time, but people should nonetheless be more mindful of the awesome strength that is nature. In doing so, just as news outlets have found, Your Name is indeed an allegory to the Tohoku Earthquake. Using stunning visuals and a central human element, Shinkai subtly informs viewers to never forget about the duality of nature, but also, the strength of the human spirit to make a difference.

Verdict: Confirmed

Your Name and The Garden of Words are set in the same universe

Yukari Yukino was one of the protagonists of The Garden of Words, where she had fallen into a depression as a consequence from stresses of her work and became increasingly isolated until Takai entered her life. Metaphorically helping her walk again, Taki’s influence on Yukari is a positive one, and Yukari resumes teaching in her hometown on Shikoku Island. Yukari is seen again in Your Name, this time, as a teacher in Itomori. Kana Hanazawa provides the voice to both incarnations of Yukari, and so, with this overlap, viewers have been compelled to try and show that The Garden of Words and Your Name are set in the same universe, using Yukari’s presence to indicate that this is indeed the case. However, Yukari’s presence in Your Name is only because Makoto Shinkai was interested in reusing her character for the film as a bit of a call-back to his earlier film, and partially in jest, so he could work with Hanazawa again. In addition, Shinkai carefully includes dates to indicate that the Yukari of Your Name and the Yukari of The Garden of Words are not the one and the same, which is to say that The Garden of Words and Your Name are set in different universes.

  • If this blog post were to be done in a MythBusters episode, this particular claim would occupy the fewest number of minutes in that episode and be the one myth that could be tested entirely in the M5 Industries warehouse. Further, if Jamie and Adam were to replace me, then they would probably say that this is one of the myths that can be tried at home. The basis for the notion that Your Name and The Garden of Words are in the same realm stem from the fact that Yukari is present in both worlds.

  • Using the calendars on Taki and Mitshua’s smartphones is the quickest and easiest way to determine that the universes are quite different. September 10 fell on a Saturday in 2016, and in a blink-and-you’ll-miss it moment, Mitsuha is seen writing a journal entry dated Thursday, September 12. A glance shows that September 2013 has this occurrence, which also lines up with frequent mention of “three years ago” in Your Name. Yukari did not leave Tokyo until September 2013 in The Garden of Words, but in Your Name, is a teaching in Itomori in 2013.

  • There is one more subtle detail that should be sufficient to convince the reader that Yukari of The Garden of Words and Yukari of Your Name do not exist in the same universe. The first is that Shinkai had strictly adhered to realism in both Five Centimeters per Second and The Garden of Words. In Your Name, however, Itomori is a fictional town, and magic is at play in Your Name.

  • So, short of the Space and Time Stones being present in Your Name (and there most certainly are not), it is not the case that Yukari of The Garden of Words and Yukari of Your Name are the same Yukari, and moreover, these two realities are completely different. The details seen in Your Name, so deliberately chosen to reinforce this, are present to remove this ambiguity, and small details like these merit rewatching Your Name.

  • I remember that shortly after the film became available in North America, some wondered why Mitsuha did not feel something was off about their timelines based on what version of iOS they were using. Short of looking at the system settings, I argue that there aren’t enough differences between iOS 7 and iOS 9 for the average user to differentiate. iOS 7 saw the introduction of Apple’s Flat UI, which gives iOS a more modern, streamlined form, and it was a dramatic departure from iOS 6 and earlier versions, which had skeuomorphism in its design.

Looking through the calendars of The Garden of Words, Yukari writes a letter to Takao dated February, 2014, indicating that when she mentions returning to her hometown for September, she is referring to September 2013. The time that Yukari and Takao spend together, then, is between June and August of 2013. In Your Name, there are numerous stills of Taki and Mitsuha leaving daily journal entries on their mobile devices. From Taki’s perspective, he sees everything from 2016: September 10 was a Tuesday in 2016. However, inspection of the frames when Mitsuha leaves a journal entry behind show that it is 2013 – September 12 was a Thursday in 2013. Consequently, it is reasonable to suppose that Mitsuha first begins switching consciousnesses with Taki in the summer of 2013 from her perspective. During the phenomenon, Yukari is clearly seen teaching classes in Itomori. There is a direct overlap in Yukari’s teaching Mitsuha’s classes in Itomori and teaching Takao’s classes in Tokyo. Since it is impossible for an individual to have omnipresence in the absence of additional elements, practical evidence in Your Name and The Garden of Words, coupled with Shinkai’s remarks about Yukari, indicate that both movies have a different instance of Yukari, and so, could not be set within the same realm.

Verdict: Busted

Understanding and a profound familiarity of the Man’yōshū is mandatory to enjoyment of the film

Your Name covers a myriad of themes, from the ethereal and powerful nature of love to the juxtaposition of beauty and indifference in natural phenomenon. The film’s broad appeal comes as a consequence of the narrative’s breadth – a diverse audience enjoys it because there’s something in this film for everyone, including linguists and cultural anthropologists, who would find the references to the Man’yōshū highly enjoyable. The Man’yōshū, literally “Ten Thousand Pages Collection”, is renowned as being a comprehensive collection of Japanese poetry dating largely between 600 and 759 AD. In particular, the Man’yōshū is counted as being a very extensive collection of poetry containing traditional Shinto values, as well as aspects of Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism. Written in a sentimental tone, the Man’yōshū‘s contents are further important from a cultural perspective, offering insight into an older Japanese written system, known as the man’yōgana. This system, though cumbersome, utilised Chinese characters in both phonetic and symbolic roles, and is counted as the forerunner of the modern kana systems. It is therefore unsurprising that there is a romantic appeal surrounding the Man’yōshū; it is quite fitting to draw on these well-known elements for a work of fiction. However, there are some who suggest that there are hidden thematic elements in the film, and that it requires a specialised mindset for one to truly appreciate Your Name. These individuals posit that Yukari’s references to Man’yōshū provide insight into Makoto Shinkai’s intentions more succinctly than do imagery and overarching themes elsewhere in the movie, and that further to this, one must adopt a strictly academic perspective towards the film before they can begin appreciating all of the nuances within the film:

“Kimi no na wa” is one of those films, like “Kotonoha no Niwa” -and a TV series like “Kuzu no Honkai” is as well- which can continue to provide entertainment for years. Not everyone will appreciate the connection but they have the same seeds for a lot of their symbolism. The benefits of tracking those down can be sown for an even better understanding of so many stories. Grounded with the same roots. Never ending homework but of the fun variety. While throwing me miles out of my depth, “Man’yōshū” also continues to provide foundational knowledge which in turn inspires further exploration and the formation of a never complete but ever expanding baseline for understanding. Someone who followed the hints provided by the creators of “Kuzu no Honkai” on a weekly basis and stuck with delving into them to the end will walk into a “Kimi no Na wa” screening better prepared for the emotions and symbolism they’re about to witness on screen. I came here, in part, to say that I think they have a lot in common.

  • I expect that this myth would be the one that generates the least amount of resistance by the time I reached my conclusion: the vast majority of viewers will not be watching Your Name with the intention of writing a graduate thesis about it. Your Name is intended to entertain, not instruct, and as such, one should not need a serious background in Classical Japanese to get Your Name any more than one needs an understanding of British folklore and medieval witchcraft of Europe to enjoy J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter.

  • If, we supposed that Shinkai had intended Your Name to be a movie requiring a background in Classical Japanese literature to appreciate, then the film would’ve spent more time going over the blackboard. Instead, the blackboard is shown very briefly: aside from acting as foreshadowing for viewers who do have the background in Classical Japanese literature, the film does not directly go into details line-by-line. Instead, there are numerous landscape and cityscape shots: the time lapses are impressive and show how far animation has come since Shinkai’s early days. The presence of jaw-dropping visuals, however, are unlikely to be sufficient to convince those who are dead-set on forcing an academic approach to this film.

  • Quite frankly, it is no business of mine if people want to do a graduate thesis on Your Name – they’d have a helluva time finding a graduate supervisor willing to do such a project, and encounter similar difficulties in securing the requisite, for starters. With this being said, I do not wish for people to read through piles of meaningless purple prose online and then come away feeling as though they’re missing something from Your Name: often, people will do this to satisfy their own egos and intimidate others, rather than present novel ideas for a discussion amongst peers. Those with the most convoluted thoughts are those who have the least meaningful things to add, as the quoted individual for this section illustrates.

  • There were two other myths that I would have liked to bust. The first is that that a power line dividing the moon in two has symbolic meaning (allegedly, “heartbreak or broken fate”). However, with the art-book “A Sky Longing For Memories” never mentioning this, and the fact that this image actually has no meaning, this myth would not be a satisfactory one to bust, being quite short. These shots are intended to be establishing shots only, bringing to life an environment, and beyond this, does not hold any relevance to the narrative. The second is that couples will get more out of Your Name than single folk, but this is also obviously false, and would make for some uninteresting discussion.

  • My original Your Name post was quite lengthy and featured an even hundred screenshots, but even this was insufficient to cover all of the moments in Your Name. With this being said, in the two years that have passed since the film began screening in Japan, I think that all of the conversation that can be had about Your Name is exhausted. There will be screenshots I do not imagine I will have a chance to use, but things are what they are. I note the goal of this exercise is to take a closer look at existing beliefs about the movie, rather than a revisitation, and so, the screenshots were chosen to be (somewhat) relevant to what was being discussed.

A film is not intended to, and should never, force its viewers to do “homework”. It should be evident that any film demanding its audience to possess a degree in Classical Japanese, folklore, linguistics or culture would not be particularly enjoyable to watch. Doubtless that there might be interesting aspects in Your Name drawn from the Man’yōshū, they do not form the focus of the film: had Shinkai chosen to conceal his themes behind aspects requiring uncommon knowledge, audiences would not have found the film enjoyable. The reason why Your Name was so successful was that it broadly touched on a range of topics, packaging things up in a film with stunning sound and visuals, and finally, concluding in an immensely satisfying manner. As such, it is evident that without having the requisite “foundational knowledge” and a preparedness to seek out the symbols in the film, one can nonetheless enjoy the film to a considerable extent. In fact, it should be clear that while Shinkai may have drawn from the Man’yōshū for his films, the stories and themes in Your Name (and The Garden of Words) are his own – Shinkai draws from his own experiences to create a story, and it is disingenuous to suppose that there is enough of an overlap between his works and the Man’yōshū such that the latter becomes required reading to understand Shinkai’s intentions. One does not need to “[follow] the hints provided and [stick] with delving into them to the end” ahead of watching Your name to be “better prepared for the emotions and symbolism they’re about to witness on screen”; this is a load of bullshit. Numerous viewers have enjoyed the film without the requisite knowledge that is supposedly mandatory to enjoy the movie; as the large, diverse audience have decisively shown, there is no wrong way to enjoy Your Name except for one: the belief that declares academic perspectives as being necessary and sufficient to experience the film properly. With this myth being firmly busted, it is my hope that people do not accept those verbose, purple prose-filled passages as resembling anything even remotely relevant to Your Name.

Verdict: Busted

Closing Remarks

The broad themes and messages in Your Name means that discussion on the film’s subtler aspects are only natural, but there are occasions where conversation strays away from the realm of facts and towards speculation. This post was intended to take a look at some of the assertions surrounding Your Name. In this round of myth busting, I cover four widely-known queries that are invariably raised after watching Your Name, and through a bit of discussion, find that three of the four claims are “busted”. That is to say, there is evidence to show that the claims made about Your Name are merely thus. One of the claims turned out to have merit, and this revelation gives additional weight and meaning to Your Name. I’ve found that appreciation for a film usually comes from hearing insight into what motivated the creators to create the film in the manner that they did, and also from being able to relate to the film in a manner. While post-modernist thought supposes that the audience’s interpretation should be held to at least the same weight as the author’s intent, deviating from this may leave an individual with an inaccurate understanding of the same film, or even a diminished experience. While we are on the matter of a diminished experience, I note that this post lacks the same excitement as a conventional MythBusters episode. Instead, I’ve addressed a few long-standing queries about Makoto Shinkai’s Your Name, and ultimately find that, regardless of whether one might agree or disagree with my verdicts, the fact is that Your Name is a worthwhile film to watch.

Shikioriori (Flavours of Youth): A Review and Full Recommendation, and Insights into Chinese Culture

浪奔 浪流 萬里滔滔江水永不休
淘盡了 世間事 混作滔滔一片潮流
是喜 是愁 浪裡分不清歡笑悲憂
成功 失敗 浪裡看不出有未有

—上海灘 (The Bund, opening song, 1980)

Flavours of Youth is an animated anthology that is directed by Li Haoling, Jiaoshou Yi Xiaoxing and Yoshitaka Takeuchi and produced by Noritaka Kawaguchi. Releasing internationally on August 4, Flavours of Youth (spelt Flavors of Youth in The United States, known in Japan as Shikioriori (詩季織々) and Si shi qing chun (肆式青春) in China) follows the stories of three youth in China. The first act, Sunny Breakfast, follows Beijing salaryman Xiao Ming (小明, jyutping siu2 ming4), who recalls fond memories of enjoying noodles with his grandmother. As he grows older, and the world changes around him, the things he liked greatly become more distant. One day, after eating the noodles in a Beijing eatery and missing those of his youth, Xiao Ming receives a call from his parents, prompting him to return home, where his grandmother passes away. Devastated, Xiao Ming nonetheless feels that time will heal the hurt, and that his memories of his grandmother will endure because some things never change. The second act, A Small Fashion Show, is set in Guangzhou. As the story starts, model Yi Lin (依琳, jyutping ji1 lam4) misses celebrating her birthday with her younger sister, Lulu (璐璐, jyutping lou6 lou6). She explains that she wants to both be a good sister and a successful model. However, in order to retain her physical appearance, Yi Lin exercises regularly and maintains a watchful eye over her diet. The stresses of her work, and fear of being replaced by a younger, more attractive model leads her to succumb to an eating disorder: while working on a modelling event, she collapses. She reawakens in the hospital with Lulu by her side, and contemplates quitting modelling. After a fight with Lulu, her manager, Steve(史蒂夫, jyutping si2 dai3 fu1), convinces her to give modelling one more go, and she is surprised to learn that she will model the clothes that Lulu designed. Finding that balance between work and family, Yi Lin continues modelling, with Lulu designing many of the clothes that she wears. The final act is set in Shanghai and appropriately titled Love in Shanghai. It opens with architect Limo (李墨, jyutping lei5 mak6) moving into a new apartment to focus on his career with help from Pan, his friend. He finds an old cassettes from Xia Xiao Yu (夏小雨, jyutping haa6 siu2 jyu5) and rushes off to his grandparents’ home located nearby, which is scheduled for demolition. Listening to the cassette, he relives his friendship with Xiao Yu, a studious girl who had plans to attend a prodigious high school. Determined to follow her, Limo puts his full efforts into studying for the entrance exam for the same school. Although he is accepted, Xiao Yu is not. Over time, their paths separate, but upon hearing the cassettes’ content, he is encouraged to follow his dream of running an inn. Some years later, he encounters Xiao Yu while running his inn, when she checks in as a guest. In the post-credits scene, Xiao Ming, Yi Lin, Lulu, Limo, Xiao Yu and Pan cross paths at an airport, separately setting off for their next great adventures.

Similar to Makoto Shinkai’s Five Centimetres per Second, Flavours of Youth is a three-part anthology animated by Comix Wave, and as such, shares the incredible visual fidelity with Makoto Shinkai’s movies. However, this is where the similarities end. Set in China, Flavours of Youth deals with a completely different set of thematic elements: love and distance are fleeting elements, overshadowed by themes of change. Whether it be the fading and rediscovery of memories through the taste of homemade noodles, changes in one’s career that also reinforces family bonds or how a changing cityscape sees people separated and reunited, Flavours of Youth illustrates, through each of its three acts, the transience and fleetingness of life itself. Things change, become replaced, forgotten, and occasionally, are found again: nothing in life is absolute, and each of Xiao Ming, Yi Lin and Limo live their lives out, making new discoveries and learnings with each passing day. While their experiences are steered by circumstances around them, all of the characters have agency – they learn to take ownership of their decisions and own the moment with their experiences. In doing so, Xiao Ming comes to terms with his grandmother’s death, Yi Lin finds new life in her family and career, and Limo ends up following a dream he’d lost sight of. These seemingly disparate stories ultimately act as dramatically different representations of dealing with change in one’s life, and in China, a country known for its radical change (in the past five decades, China has gone from a backwater nation to a regional power), the pace at which things advance can be quite dizzying. Through Flavours of Youth, it is shown that people embrace change in their own way, being focused in their own livelihoods. As such, the changes to Chinese society and China as a whole, do not seem so overwhelming to individuals who are simply working their hardest to better their own situations.

On Chinese Culture

While Flavours of Youth may sport the same visual style as a Makoto Shinkai film, its cultural aspects are completely different, and admittedly, it is a bit surprising to see Chinese people display the occasional mannerism typically seen in anime. However, this is a very minor element in Flavours of Youth, and I am more impressed with the cultural elements that the film does portray. I can say this with authority because I am of Chinese heritage (specifically, Cantonese Canadian): it was quite striking to see the things I see every day (and occasionally, take for granted) in an anime film that is a collaboration between Japanese and Chinese people. There are three separate cultural elements, one for each act. Sunny Breakfast is an ode to the San Xian noodles (三鮮麵, jyutping saam1 sin1 min6): noodles are as widespread as rice in China, and the importance of food in Chinese culture is such that asking if one’s eaten (“你食咗飯未呀?”, jyutping “nei5 sik6 zo2 faan6 mei6 aa1”) is a common salutation amongst Cantonese speakers. Far beyond a means of sustenance, the preparation and sharing of meals is a core part of our culture, with eating together being a big deal for the Chinese. It is not uncommon to spend hours for people to spend time at the dinner table, partaking in food and conversation, so while it may seem excessive for Xiao Ming to describe San Xian noodles in such detail, the truth of the matter is that the Chinese greatly value food, the inventiveness of making use of anything available to cook, and sharing time together as a result of meals. In A Small Fashion Show, family is core: traditionally, families figured prominently in Chinese culture, with youth raising their families and looking after their parents. However, with the rapid industrialisation of China, and with more people seeking higher education and stable careers, traditional values are upheld with less frequency as people focus on their work and a good income. Yi Lin is a model trying to hold onto both – a part of Chinese culture is that there are more expectations placed on the older siblings, and Yi Lin initially struggles to be the responsible older sister for Lulu, but the competitiveness of her occupation makes it difficult to keep up. In the end, it is a creative and inventive solution that Lulu helps Yi Lin see, that allows her to strike a balance between making it as a model and also being a good older sister for Lulu, showing that a merger of traditional and new ways is the norm as the Chinese continue to advance.

Finally, Love in Shanghai deals with notions of parental expectations and collectivism versus individualism. Seemingly a story about separation and reunion, the “love” in Love in Shanghai also refers to love for a career path and a dream. While longing to run his own inn, looking after the small details and the happiness of those around him, Limo follows a more traditional path, studying hard to gain admittance into good schools in preparation for a corporate job that he’s unable to fit into. The Chinese are rather (and perhaps unfortunately) well known for its focus on high grades and higher education – parents, having seen the power of education and the potential career stability it may bring, push their children to excel in school. This creates a culture where rote memorisation and test taking is valued above creative thinking and ingenuity. Successful individuals may not be happy, and it is the case where this drive to be the best places extreme stress on students. Limo is able to succeed with his education but works in a career at odds with his own interests. His first love, to run an inn, is rediscovered, and Limo is able to do something that seems quite easy for North Americans: he ends up following his dreams with the right spark. I mentioned earlier that I am Cantonese Chinese, but my parents ended up imbibing Canadian values into my upbringing – at a young age, my parents emphasised that effort and the determination to do well matters more than the result itself. So as long as I gave an honest effort into what I did, the results would follow if it were something I enjoyed doing. As such, I never had the pressure of needing to score perfect on everything I did and was free to discover what I enjoyed doing. At the same time, my parents stressed finding something that I could make a career out of while at once doing it – when my aspirations for going into medicine shifted, they accepted my decision for going into software so as long as I could make it work. Finding the middle of the road between traditional and contemporary approaches in education and careers is something that the older generation still struggle with; in a world that is ever-changing, I feel that, again, striking a balance between the old and new will be essential in raising a generation of forward-thinkers ready to handle whatever the world throws at them.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Reception towards Flavours of Youth have been polar opposites – either viewers will like this film, or they will not. Right from the start, I will note that Flavours of Youth is not the place for a cohesive, life-changing narrative about anything in particular. It is a series of snapshots, momentary glimpses into a world that audiences rarely see, and as such, one should not enter the film with the expectations that they will see a Makoto Shinkai-style love story.

  • For this post, I’ve gone above the usual standard number of screenshots, and feature a grand total of sixty images from the movie. Further to this, I’ve included the jyutping pronunciations for everything in this post to give readers an idea of how to read everything in Cantonese. Like Makoto Shinkai’s films, there are a large number of highly spectacular moments in Flavours of Youth, whether they be landscapes, such as the rice paddies of Hunan province here, or closeups of common everyday items, such as the richly depicted bowl of San Xian noodles above: every detail, from the fried egg, to the pork, seaweed and shiitake (冬菇, jyutping dung1 gu1), is shown vividly.

  • Xiao Ming is the central character of the first act. The story is told from his perspective: he is precise and detail-oriented, poetically describing his favourite noodles and memories in his youth. For anyone who studied Chinese, they will immediately be familiar with the name Xiao Ming, which is akin to “John Doe” in English with respect to usage. Before diving any further into Flavours of Youth, I remark that Netflix spells “flavours” with the American spelling, Flavors of Youth, but I retain the Canadian spelling by muscle memory. In order to make this post visible to search engines, which I am guessing will be aggregating the film by American spelling, I make it a deliberate point to mention the original American spelling.

  • The Chinese countryside is not a setting that is often depicted in fiction outside of Chinese dramas and epic films: smaller villages remain as they have since the Qing or even Ming Dynasty, and here, snow falls over Xiao Ming’s home village. Because of its humid, subtropical climate, it is generally quite warm in Hunan, although there are four distinct seasons, and winters are surprisingly cold: snow is not uncommon, so seeing snow fall in Xiao Ming’s village is not implausible.

  • Hunan province is so-called for being literally south of Lake Dongting. Being the seventh-most populated province in China, and tenth largest, Hunan is strategically located on the Yangtze River and its warm climate is conducive towards agriculture – Hunan’s grain production was historically high, and this is why wheat noodles are such a staple of the area. Despite a few peasant uprisings in its history, Hunan remained relatively peaceful until the Qing dynasty collapsed.

  • One aspect of life that Xiao Ming notices changing around him are the noodles: as he grows older, and spends more time away from home, he feels that the craftsmanship that goes into each bowl of noodles is lessened. This is a consequence of the fact that Xiao Ming fondly remembers the time spent with his grandmother. Rather than the food itself, the taste of the food reminds him of specific, happy moments in his childhood, and this is why things seem to be diminishing with time, as Xiao Ming becomes busier. The operative word here is “seem” – in his monologues, Xiao Ming mentions that the noodles themselves aren’t necessarily bad, just different.

  • Love stories are subtly present in each act of Flavours of Youth, although they are so fleeting that they might better be characterised as a tertiary aspect: each protagonist deals with their feelings of love slightly differently, but it never becomes so persuasive as to define their narrative. Xiao Ming develops a bit of a crush on a girl with short, brown hair that passes by the noodle shop he frequents every morning, although neither make an effort to talk to one another. Many potential romances come and go in life: it’s possible to develop a bit of a crush on someone without ever feeling compelled to act on these feelings.

  • I note that while I enjoyed Flavours of Youth, there are many who find the film quite unwatchable. The reason why this is the case is simply because Flavours of Youth takes a highly unstructured, fragmented approach to its stories. It is trying to capture instances in the lives of three individuals, and as such, moments are disjointed, disorganised. While not particularly conducive for a moving narrative as Five Centimeters per Second, which took three milestones and presented them in a structured manner, the approach taken in Flavours of Youth is meant to suggest the idea that life’s moments can be fleeting and unorganised. It is contrary to what makes stories rewarding to watch, since one cannot empathise readily with the protagonist by seeing the situations they find themselves in.

  • Because Hunan is the birthplace of Mao Zedong, Chairman of the Chinese Communist Party until his death in September 1976, Hunan openly supported his policies and the Cultural Revolution. I consider the Cultural Revolution one of the worst calamities China has faced in its history, surpassing even the tragedies of the Second Sino-Japanese War. Mao’s lack of understanding in disciplines from industry to agriculture, meant that under his rule, China suffered: more people died in the famines resulting from the Great Leap Forwards and the Cultural Revolution than were killed during the Second Sino-Japanese War, and it was not until Deng Xiaoping’s economic reforms that China really began to recover.

  • In the present day, Xiao Ming eats a bowl of noodles at a chain shop. Food eaten hastily alone is unmemorable: this is the consequence of living a high-paced life, and the comparison Xiao Ming strikes is meant to say that shifting values in China means that living in the moment and savouring something is slowly being lost. I get being in a hurry: when I’m in the need of something to keep me from keeling over, I won’t give much thought as to what I eat. However, when the moment allows it, I will savour what I eat, whether I’m eating on my own or with others.

  • Grievances about the film’s ability to capture Chinese culture, on the other hand, is not so easily justified – I count myself as being quite connected to Chinese culture despite my upbringing in Canada, and I find that many Chinese Canadians are quite disconnected from subtleties of their Chinese heritage. As such, when someone attempts to pass the film off as “forced drama, emotional manipulation, mindnumbing[sic] boredom, and…cheap shock factor”, I am inclined to think that such individuals lack any real understanding of what Flavours of Youth aims to convey, have no interest in Chinese culture as a whole and are instead, spewing negativity for the sake of sounding more relevant than they are. One thing should be for apparent: Flavours of Youth is most certainly not a waste of time as some purport.

  • We’ve seen the inaka, the Japanese countryside, countless times in anime, so to see the Chinese countryside in the quality of a Makoto Shinkai film was quite enjoyable. The Chinese countryside is truly vast, and has a distinctly different feel than that of the inaka as seen in anime. Here, after Xiao Ming receives word that his grandmother’s health is failing, he rushes back to his home town to see her. Flights between Beijing and Hunan take roughly two-and-a-half hours, similarly to the flight time between Calgary and Denver.

  • Xiao Ming arrives home to find it more or less as it always had been. While the urban centres of China have dramatically changed in the past two decades and matching the West in sophistication, the countryside appears to have been left behind by the times. Electricity and running water are not universal, and villages may look as they did during the Qing Dynasty. The vast size of China has made modernisation difficult, although in recent years, the government has invested in agriculture and rural infrastructure with the aim of improving opportunity in rural China.

  • I find it disingenuous to pass off the comings and goings of life as “forced drama” – it pre-supposes that only some stories are worth telling, and disregards the fact that everyone will experience challenges and successes in their life. For Xiao Ming, his challenge comes when his grandmother dies in old age. Death is a natural part of life, and I do not see Sunny Breakfast as using death for drama: instead, it is presented as an occurrence, an instrument of change, in Xiao Ming’s life.

  • As it stands, the interpretation here is more appropriate for Flavours of Youth – Xiao Ming mentins that time will heal the wounds, and he finds renewed happiness in eating a bowl of San Xian noodles while eyeing another girl in the area. Things invariably change, but other things remain the same, and with this, the first act to Flavours of Youth comes to an end.

  • The second act, A Small Fashion Show, is set in Guangzhou, which has a population of 14.5 million people as of 2017. Located in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong, Guangzhou is, together with Shenzhen, Dongguan, Foshan and Zhongshan, part of the Pearl River Delta megalopolis, which has a total of 44 million people. Located just north of Hong Kong, the ultra-modern, sleek and vast Guangzhou has played a major role in modern Chinese history, being the site of foreign trade. The majority of Guangzhou’s residents are Cantonese Chinese, although their reduced contact with the Western world compared to the likes of Hong Kong means that their Cantonese is noticeably different than the Hong Kong variety.

  • I watched Flavours of Youth in Mandarin – since I could catch some of it, I concluded that it was probably Taiwanese Mandarin, which I have the least trouble understanding of all the different varieties of Mandarin. Having said this, if I were to watch Flavours of Youth in a completely authentic environment, then Sunny Breakfast would have everyone speaking Mainland Chinese (Putonghua), Love in Shanghai would see Limo and Xiao Yu speaking Shanghaiese, and Yi Lin and Lulu of A Small Fashion Show would speak Cantonese. Of all the acts, then, A Small Fashion Show would be the one where I would not need any subtitles at all to understand: despite minor differences in colloquial Cantonese with respect to slang and the like, Guangzhou and Hong Kong Cantonese are the same (similar to differences between American and British English).

  • Tall, slender and beautiful, Yi Lin is a model working in Guangzhou. With much sharper facial features than other characters, there’s no doubt that Yi Lin is supposed to be a model. One challenge in anime is the portrayal of above-average looking characters: since a lot of imperfections seen in real people are eliminated, all characters tend to look quite similar. As such, animated characters must count on exposition and interactions with other characters to convey beauty (or the lack thereof), when the visuals themselves alone cannot fully convey this.

  • Yi Lin celebrates her birthday with her coworkers: she’s presented as having a sharp tongue and is quite mindful of those around her, but is never seen as being arrogant or conceited. With this being said, Yi Lin is very much into her career, and so, when she celebrates here, the scene shifts momentarily to back home, where Lulu, her younger sister, is waiting for her with a home-made cake. Yi Lin suddenly remembers her promise to be with Lulu, whose patience has run out.

  • When a man that Yi Lin appears to hold feelings for introduces her to a younger model and remarks that this new, younger model might just be what the market is looking for, Yi Lin’s confidence takes a hit. Modelling is a highly difficult, arduous career: requiring not only a very particular set of skills, but also exceptional attention paid to one’s appearance. There are some aspects of one’s appearance that simply cannot be overcome, such as aging, and so, one might no longer be suited for modelling even if their skills remain intact. This is a very sobering thought, and acts as a constant reminder that each and every occupation has its own enjoyable aspects and drawbacks. When Yi Lin is faced with this prospect, she grows frustrated and downs an entire glass of red wine.

  • Returning home hammered, Yi Lin shares dinner with Lulu and her manager, Steve. Yi Lin is a lot more casual at home, and Steve remarks that this is an unexpected side of her he’d previously not seen. Lulu is still a student and has a profound interest in fashion design. It is clear that the two sisters are very close – Lulu is quite understanding of the difficulties that Yi Lin faces, being very patient of Yi Lin’s more unruly, lazy side and doing her best to support her nonetheless. The next morning, the linger effects of a hangover results in Yi Lin very nearly being late for work.

  • Yi Lin explains to audiences that she wants to both be successful in her career and simultaneously be a reliable, respectable older sister for Lulu. This want for everything places a tremendous amount of pressure on her, but it also shows that Yi Lin is very ambitious and committed to the things that drive her. As a consequence, I do not feel that greedy, at least in English, is the most appropriate term to describe Yi Lin.

  • Here, Steve and Li Yin share a conversation after Yi Lin fails an audition. Steve decides to slot Yi Lin into another show, and also relays a message from Lulu. Remarking that Lulu’s asking him because she doesn’t answer, the moment also reveals that Yi Lin’s bothered by her job to a nontrivial extent. With thoughts of growing too old to model on her mind, Yi Lin’s eating habits begin to shift, as well, foreshadowing the agent of change in Yi Lin’s life.

  • I remarked earlier that I was abroad for software development work, which is why this week’s Harukana Receive post is a little delayed. I’m a little surprised at how quickly this week’s passed by, and while it’s been very busy, I’m also forcing myself to slow back down outside of work hours to regroup. Besides exercising and gaming, one of my favourite ways of unwinding is to enjoy my meals: I haven’t lifted or opened an FPS all week, but I did have a chance to try the food of Denver. My first evening, I sat down to a crunchy and tasty tonkatsu with rice, tempura and California rolls. On evening two, I had a three course meal, with crab-stuffed swordfish and blackened prawns as the entrée. I’ve not had swordfish in quite some time; it’s got a sweet and slightly oily flavour to it that proved enjoyable.

  • Finally, on my final evening, I had a Mexican-style steak with beans, lettuce, tomatoes and rice. This was absolutely delicious, being an explosion of flavours. I suppose that with all three of my dinners having rice in it, I must be subconsciously missing home. Having a good meal is a major morale booster for me, and having something to look forwards to allows me to focus and regroup to face the tasks of what the next day entails. On more ordinary evenings back home, I usually game or watch movies, but I will note that unlike Li Yin, who seems to find horror amusing, I never watch horror movies if I can help it.

  • I relate to each of the Flavours of Youth stories in a unique way, in part because of my heritage and in part because I empathise with the shows that I watch. I get the importance of food as seen in Sunny Breakfast, appreciate the work-life balance shown in A Small Fashion Show, and later, in Love in Shanghai, I vividly recall my own experiences as a student, pushing to both realise a future, work towards a dream and pursue romance where I could. Of course, my own stories here can only be “how not to do it” – there are no happy endings so far.

  • When Yi Lin finds that a fellow she seemed interested in is going out with the younger model, her world shatters. Romance can end, or never reach the starting point without anything being said, and whether it be through seeing it happen in real life or from behind a screen, no words can describe how much such moments hurt. It would seem strange, even contrived that I can draw so many parallels between my own experiences and what is seen in Flavours of Youth, one may feel. However, my experiences predate Flavours of Youth, and I should note that this is a consequence of living, being mindful of one’s surroundings and being appreciative of the small things in life.

  • I’ve never visited Guangzhou before, but I’ve been to Hong Kong frequently, and every time I visit, it’s like a completely different city. With this being said, I would love to visit Guangzhou at some point: it is even busier and glitzier than Hong Kong, although because Cantonese is the de facto main language, I expect that I should not have too much trouble getting around (minus the fact that my slang might be a little difficult to get). I’ve long felt Hong Kong to be a second home, feeling very familiar even though it is a world apart from the wide open spaces and laid-back feeling that is Calgary, Alberta.

  • The desire to remain competitive forces Yi Lin to extreme measures to keep her figure within a certain standard, and Flavours of Youth implicitly shows that Yi Lin may have a mild eating disorder: she is seen forgoing meals and during a fashion event, collapses on the catwalk after exiting a bathroom visibly weakened. Refusing to yield to the younger model, Yi Lin stubbornly decides to go forward and the sum of her stress, exhaustion and inadequate nutrition catch up to her.

  • Every occupation has its own unique hazards; while those living a sheltered existence and have limited exposure to the real world might call it “forced drama”, I counter that Flavours of Youth‘s second act also is meant to show the effects of overworking and overexertion in a highly visceral manner. Yi Lin’s collapse and admission to hospital forces her to re-evaluate her priorities, and she begins wondering whether or not modelling is a career she can continue to do.

  • I’m certain that many people out there have wondered at some point in their careers, as to whether or not what they were doing was right for them. I’m still considered young by all counts, and I absolutely love software development and engineering, but even I have the odd moment or two where I wonder if this is a career I can continue to do for the decades upcoming. Just this week, I was sent out to Denver for work. The end goal is to deploy a project, which is something I am comfortable with, and while the week was very productive, there were a few points in the past week where I looked in the mirror and asked myself, “what did I get myself into?”.

  • When Yi Lin considers doing what Lulu is doing for a career, Lulu responds negatively, feeling that Yi Lin is giving up her own career on whim and at the same time, is diminishing her own aspirations. All siblings fight from time to time, and after Lulu storms out, Yi Lin comes across one of Lulu’s sketches of a dress. She realises here that Lulu is very serious about being a fashion designer. The next day, she talks to Steve about the fight, and Steve is relieved, saying that Li Yin’s at least recovered, if she can summon the energy to have a fight with Lulu.

  • As far as careers go, having a good team and mentor in one’s corner goes a very long way. Having people to confide in, or even gripe to, sometimes is all it takes for one to put things in perspective, and often, I will voice doubts out loud simply to get them out in the open. For instance, I am very unfamiliar with implementing user interfaces, much less in an environment I’ve never used before, but after outlining this in my reports, I feel as though, provided I can finish other goals and put in an honest effort to learn to do the basics, things might not be so bad. Similarly, Yi Lin is convinced to see if modelling is something she will continue with when Steve asks her to meet him at a warehouse later.

  • It turns out that Lulu’s crafted the dresses that Yi Lin remembers from their youth: their parents are implied to have passed away by this point, explaining why Yi Lin pushes herself so hard for Lulu’s sake. The reason why “forced drama” is not a valid criticism for Flavours of Youth is because real life encompasses so much, and that people have a wide spectrum of experiences, that the events seen in Flavours of Youth can hardly be said to be implausible. Instead, what I see in A Small Fashion Show is a journey of rediscovery, one that gives Yi Lin a newfound perspective on her life and career. Sometimes, it takes extreme examples for people to see problems differently, and what Yi Lin goes through is not particularly outrageous.

  • By the end of A Small Love Story, Yi Lin and Lulu have found their new equilibrium: with Lulu designing clothes and Yi Lin modelling them, the siblings have discovered the balance that allows them to enjoy one another’s company and concentrate on their careers. It’s a satisfying ending that shows that even in the high-paced world that is Guangzhou, a middle way can indeed be found, if individuals are willing to compromise and keep their eyes open.

  • We now enter the final act of Flavours of Youth, which sees Limo moving out of his parents’ apartment to an apartment of his own, overlooking an old district in Shanghai. In a flashback, Limo is performing poorly at work, with his concepts rejected as being too unsuited for the current market. The stresses of work negatively impacts his temperament, and he snaps during a conversation with his parents. I am guilty of this on occasion, too, and one of my personal goals is to always find a way to relieve my stress without making someone else’s day a bad day. To this end, I usually aim to leave work at work, and crack bad jokes often to lighten up.

  • Limo runs through the streets of Shanghai towards the old town, where his grandparents lived, after discovering an old tape containing messages from an old friend and love interest. On the day that I went through Flavours of Youth to gather screenshots, I was also packing to go on this excursion, and was listening to the song, 上海灘 (jyutping soeng5 hoi2 taan1, literally “Shanghai Beach” and translated to “The Bund”), in the process. The song expresses that everything is transient, and that things troubling people, like success, failure, love and hatred, are all temporal, being washed away with the waves of time. It is a very famous song, and back in 2010, while visiting Shanghai, I heard the song being blasted on loudspeakers while I was eating 小籠包 (jyutping siu2 lung4 baau1, steamed buns famous in Shanghai) on a shop located in The Bund.

  • Of the three acts in Flavours of Youth, Love in Shanghai has the greatest emphasis on romance. In his youth, Limo had a crush on Xiao Yu, who reciprocated his feelings. Together with Pan, the three friends spend their days peacefully together. In this scene, the subtleties of using cassette players are shown: tapes are notorious for unravelling like this, and it takes patience to wind them back together. Xiao Yu (literally “Little Rain”) resembles Makoto Shinkai’s earlier female protagonists, being very pure of heart and kind in disposition, while Pan reminds me of Tessie from Your Name.

  • Bikes are everywhere in China, and their presence in China dates back to the 1890s. An inexpensive means of getting around quickly, their popularity took off, and the use of bikes soared when factories began manufacturing bikes as a result of the Communist Government’s degree that bikes were to become the choice of transport for the masses. The mode of transportation is effective in most places in China, but back home, the cold weather and car-centric cities means that cyclists often have a tough time getting around: between icy conditions for over half the year and roads ill-suited for bikes, I simultaneously feel bad for cyclists and wish that they would stop occupying the roads that I am driving on.

  • While Limo is familiar with every crack and protruding brick in the sidewalk surrounding his home, Xiao Yu is less versed and hurts herself, prompting Limo to carry her. As the third act progresses, it becomes clear that of the three friends, Xiao Yu is the most studious, although Limo himself is no slouch, either. By comparison, Pan is a bit more carefree in nature. However, Xiao Yu also has a more playful side to her character: unlike Akari of Five Centimeters per Second, who exuded an ethereal presence, Xiao Yu is shown to be more multi-dimensional.

  • Calendars with 福 (jyutping fuk1, “blessing” or “good luck”) written at the top are very commonplace in China, and I say with confidence that many Chinese families will have at least one of these calendars in their homes. Here, Xiao Yu studies as the evening light fades; watching Love in Shanghai brings back many memories for me, and although it’s been quite some time since I’ve actually sat down and studied for an exam properly, the process remains quite fresh in my mind.

  • Of all the exams I’ve done, the most difficult remains the MCAT: I gave up an entire summer to study for it, with the aim of getting into medicine, and considering that I ended up choosing software development over medicine, I occasionally wonder if the MCAT was little more than a waste of money. With this being said, taking the MCAT did impart on me a unique approach in test-taking, and in the years following, I studied for written exams much more effectively. In addition, having scored what would be today’s 517, which isn’t terrible, I do suppose that it’s one more conversation topic that I may bring up for fun.

  • The troubles that affect Limo and Xiao Yu seem a world away now that I am the age that I am. Looking back, I have no regrets about all of the various experiences and accomplishments to my name during my time as a student save one: that I did not attempt to pursue a relationship with the same intensity and focus that I have everything else that I’d done. I typically manage fine on my own, preferring to solve my own problems and divulging little about the things that trouble me to others, but at the same time, I wonder what it would be like to have someone to lean onto, and someone who can rely on me, as well.

  • Limo’s parents are rather strict, wondering if it’s plausible for him to get into the same high school as Xiao Yu. Limo thus resolves to study his best with the aim of following her, although when asked, he flatly states that he wants to push his limits and see what is possible. This is how I’ve long lived my life: I wonder what the furthest that an honest effort can take me is, and this is why I always strive to give it my all, regardless of how challenging some things are. The outcomes of this way of living are reasonably straightforwards – either I fail and learn something in the process, or I succeed and pleasantly surprise myself.

  • For her efforts, Xiao Yu ends up failing her entrance exam and earns herself a beating. While audiences are left to wonder what really happened, it is implied that, not knowing the path that Limo was taking, Xiao Yu deliberately fell short so that she could remain with him. Romance stories always present this as admirable, but in reality, I consider it nothing short of folly to give up one’s own dreams and aspirations to pursue a romance that may or may not work out. It boils down to a simple matter of probability: if one works hard for their future, they will likely end up finding what they sought. If they pursue romance in its place, they may end up losing their partner and then be left worse for wear afterwards. Naturally, there are cases where people may succeed, but for me, lacking any finesse in the realm of romance, I am predisposed pursue my own future, first.

  • Flavours of Youth depicts the Oriental Pearl Tower during the fireworks heralding the start of a new millenium. This TV tower is a distinct part of the Pudong skyline adjacent to The Bund, and it was completed in 1994, remaining as the tallest building in Pudong until 2007, when the Shanghai World Financial Center Tower was completed. The Pudong New Area was formally established in 1993, and intended to be a financial hub. As a result, Pudong has since become the home of Shanghai’s most recognisable skyscrapers.

  • Watching Limo study for his entrance exams amidst the New Year’s Eve Celebrations brings to mind my own studying for the MCAT. I still remember that one evening where I had opted to stay home and do a practise verbal reasoning section while the Stampede 100th Anniversary Fireworks were going in full force. I’m told that I missed the fireworks show of the century, and considering that the sum of my efforts was getting a 10 in verbal reasoning, I’m not too sure if it was worth missing the best fireworks that Calgary will likely see until the point where Canada turns 200.

  • As time wears on, a distance grows between Xiao Yu and Limo; Xiao Yu’s path in life is depicted as being less clear than that of Limo’s, as a deliberate decision to show that Limo’s decided to focus on his future in full. A part of this transformation is seen when Xiao Yu remarks on Limo’s shiny new CD player: lacking the same romance as do cassettes, CDs are largely read-only media that can hold higher-quality sound files in an easier-to-access format, signifying his own intents to push towards the future.

  • Xiao Yu and Limo see one another off after Xiao Yu visits, and this conversation was marked by a marked change in tone: whereas the two had been very close previously, there is a distinct distance and a sense of formality between the two at present. Shortly after, Xiao Yu leaves to study abroad, and a traffic jam means that Limo and Pan miss her departure.

  • Construction on Shanghai’s Nanpu Bridge finished in 1991: with an overall length of some eight kilometers and a main span of 846 metres, Nanpu bridge is the fourth largest cable-stayed bridge in the world (it is eclipsed by Hong Kong’s Stonecutters Bridge, which holds the title of second-largest cable-stayed bridge in the world). The most distinct feature about Nanpu bridge is a large spiral: owing to the surroundings, it was necessary to compact the approach road leading up to the bridge, and here, bumper-to-bumper traffic is depicted on the bridge in both directions.

  • When Limo has a chance to listen to Xiao Yu’s final message, it turns out that Xiao Yu wanted to grow and stand out like a sunflower. In his mind’s eye, Limo pictures Xiao Yu, in a dress of purest white, standing amongst a field of sunflowers stretching as far as the eye can see. As youth, it is important to have dreams and an intent to follow them – this much was missing from Limo’s life after his entry into high school, and ultimately, listening to Xiao Yu’s voice served to remind him of his original dream, to create a three-story house where he, Xiao Yu and Pan could spend their days together. In the time following, Limo had attempted to pursue his dream in a much more conventional manner, and so, experienced pushback because his dreams do not necessarily align with market forces.

  • Both Xiao Yu and Limo find themselves in a world where their own dreams and aspirations do not align with the expectations of those around them. Limo realises this at the act’s climax, because Xiao Yu had expressed her feelings years earlier. Had Limo listened to Xiao Yu’s message earlier, he might’ve found his happiness a bit earlier, but an important message Flavours of Youth conveys is that it is never really too late to begin making one’s dreams a reality.

  • Some time after his epithany, Limo has become the owner of an inn, the well-kept and beautiful three-story building of his original vision. Outside, a pot of sunflowers is seen, showing that he has not forgotten Xiao Yu’s words to him. I admit that sixty screenshots is far too few a space to adequately discuss every noteworthy moment in Flavours of Youth, but for brevity’s sake, I’ve cut out many moments to ensure that I could get this post out: blogging immediately after getting off a plane is not an easy task, so I’ve decided to keep this post relatively short.

  • One day, after showing guests to their rooms, Limo comes face to face with Xiao Yu, who is in the area. From the looks of it, Limo’s inn is built in the same area that he once lived in, and although the area has changed, Limo has evidently adapted, making the most of the new while remembering the old. His inn is a sure sign of this, featuring traditional design elements and modern features, as well. Xiao Yu’s appearance at the end of the final act shows that because Limo acknowledges Xiao Yu’s contributions in helping him realise his dream, his gratitude is returned to him in a most pleasant manner. It’s a far cry from the messages of Five Centimeters per Second and is likely intended to show that “好心得好報” (jyutping hou2 sam1 dak1 hou2 bou3, literally “good heart results in good returns”, closely resembling the English phrase “what goes around comes around” in that kindness returns to the originator).

  • Flavours of Youth‘s final act shows The Bund and Pudong under a double rainbow, with sunshine breaking through the clouds after a rainfall to show a new start for Limo and Xiao Yu. The skyline shown here is likely the Shanghai of 2007-2008: the Shanghai Tower, currently the tallest building in Pudong (with a height of 632 meters and began construction in November 2008), is not visible in this image. This is one of my favourite stills from Flavours of Youth, and on the whole, the cityscapes of Flavours of Youth are absolutely stunning. One wishes that the studio would do an authentic coming-of-age story set in Hong Kong.

  • Flavours of Youth might be seen as being equivalent to a game made in the Frostbite Engine that isn’t part of the Battlefield franchise: while it has the same stunning visuals of a Comix Wave film, the narrative approach and themes are completely different. In the post-credits sequence, all of the central characters from each act are seen at Shanghai’s Pudong International Airport (known for its distinct interior), setting out on their own unique journeys.

  • Each of the characters have found their happiness by this point in time and are gearing up to travel for an unknown destination. The precise nature of their destination is not known, nor is it important: no one knows what the future will bring, but for the present, what is important is that each of the characters have seized the moment and are seeking to make the most of the future, as well.

  • It is actually quite amusing that I wrote out sections of this review while at the Denver International Airport – having cleared US Customs and eaten a light dinner, I was sitting at the gates, waiting to board my flight back home. I admit that I am not very fond of flying, but I do not take it for granted: it is still very much a luxury for its price (yes, even for economy-class tickets!) and so, it is an infrequent experience for me. Moreover, ever since I bought Patrick Smith’s Cockpit Confidential, my respect for all of the staff involved in making air travel possible, from the pilots themselves to the baggage handlers, increased ten-fold.

  • With Flavours of Youth in the books, I will be returning to my regularly-scheduled programming soon, and write about Harukana Receive‘s sixth episode on short order, with the aim of publishing it by no later than Sunday. With my first week in Denver over, and my initial assessment of my assignment largely complete, my schedule is slowly falling into place: there will be periods upcoming where I simply won’t be able to get Harukana Receive posts out on the same day anymore. On top of the remaining Road to Battlefield V events and another Battlefield V closed alpha, August is outright insane, so blogging will have to happen when it does.

  • For the present, however, it’s been one heck of a week, and my first priority, now that I’m back home, is to get some sleep. I think that, despite my delays in getting this discussion out, this particular Flavours of Youth talk remains the first on the ‘net to feature a sizeable collection of screenshots and moreover, a fair assessment of the film. Releasing on August 4, Flavours of Youth coincides with my favourite day of the year, and I watched it late in the day. It is my intent that with this discussion, I have covered some of the more subtle and out-of-the-way aspects about Flavours of Youth in my own way. Of course, these are merely my thoughts, and I’d love to hear what others thought of the film.

Broken up, disjointed and inconsistent are words that very much describe Flavours of Youth – there is no denying that the lack of a single, cohesive narrative in Flavours of Youth make it quite unconventional as a film. However, this tumultuous set of stories also is a reminder of reality – although we prefer our stories to be structured, with a distinct exposition, rising action, climax and denouement, the truth is that our lives our chaotic, uncertain and mutable. The strength of Flavours of Youth, then, is its ability to capture out and distill some moments in the lives of three different individuals, slow it down and encourage audiences to appreciate the small details and moments in our lives that can have dramatic impacts on what one does or becomes later. In short, it is a rather artistic film that resembles Momordica charantia, commonly known as the bitter melon. I helped my parents cook this unusual squash for the first time a few weeks ago, and they immediately told me that the bitter melon was a fantastic analogy for life: behind the melon’s bitter flavour, lay a slightly sweet and rewarding flavour. Life is very much like this: the challenges that we face sometimes hide a silver lining, and once we notice, it changes the way we look at things. Flavours of Youth can similarly be a bitter film to watch, being quite unconventional in its presentation, but once one takes a bit of time to think about what Flavours of Youth wants its audience to take away, and also takes a bit of time to consider Chinese culture, this sixty-minute long anthology suddenly takes on a new meaning. With all of this in mind, I strongly recommend watching Flavours of Youth for all viewers; there is great worth in looking at this film and its glimpse into the merger of old and new in Chinese culture, as well as how change figures in a nation that has come a considerable ways in the past fifty years.

Revisiting Kotonoha no Niwa (The Garden of Words): A Review and Reflection five years after the 2013 Alberta Floods, and insights into mental health in a garden of words

“We’re heading into tough times. As people get into their homes and their home is in trouble, people will feel despair…we have to lift them up with our love and support.” –Mayor Naheed Nenshi, The City of Calgary

The home release to Makoto Shinkai’s The Garden of Words came out five years ago today, right amidst the Great Flood of 2013: I was watching the film even as a heavy rainstorm swept through the region, dropping upwards of 200mm of precipitation in the Rocky Mountains that, in conjunction with saturated lands and snow on the surface, overwhelmed the waterways that flowed through my city: by the morning of June 21, the university had emailed its staff, saying that campus would be closed. Throughout the day, the media showed the whole of the city center covered with waist-high water, and having left my laptop on campus, I was unable to work on my simulations. The only other pursuit was to watch The Garden of Words, which a colleague had informed me of while we were out for lunch at an Indian restaurant. Sure enough, The Garden of Words turned out to be a highly enjoyable film: fifteen-year-old Takao Akizuki is a high school student and aspiring shoe-maker. Fond of skipping his morning classes whenever it rains, he frequents Shinjuku Gyoen and one morning, encounters the enigmatic Yukari Yukino, who happens to be skipping work. Amidst the problems that both face in their respective lives, the two strike up a friendship. When the summer break draws to a close, Takao learns that Yukari is a literature instructor at his high school who had been subject to harassment from students. The attendent anxiety led her to skip work, and Yukari began losing her way until she’d met Takao. She subsequently resigns, and later runs into Takao at Shinjuku Gyoen. After a storm hits, they return to Yukari’s apartment, where Takao confesses his love to Yukari. Taken aback, she notes that she’s moving back to Shikoku, leaving Takao heartbroken. He makes to leave, but Yukari catches up with him and tearfully admits that it was through his kindness that she’s managed to find her way again. In the epilogue, Takao continues with his dreams of becoming a shoemaker, while Yukari has resumed teaching.

Despite its short runtime, The Garden of Words manages to condense into its narrative an exceptional degree of symbolism, evident in the tanka that Yukari recites and shoes as a metaphor for life experiences. Shinkai himself makes it clear that the central theme of The Garden of Words is loneliness, captured in Yukari and Takao’s interactions with the individuals around them. Both characters share the commonality of being isolated: Yukari is withdrawn from her colleagues and family, being limited to dealing with her troubles on her own, while Takao receives little support from his family while he pursues his career. While this overarching theme applies to The Garden of Words, Shinkai also manages to bring about another, emergent theme through the decision to feature a noticeable age gap between Yukari and Takao. The companionship and understanding that the two find in one another, amidst a garden of both greenery and the literal garden of words they craft together, form very naturally. In a place where age, background and station are hidden away, Shinjuku Gyoen acts as the perfect sanctuary for two individuals brought together by the seemingly-mundane occurrence of rain, to begin opening up with one another and drive forwards the events in The Garden of Words. Shinkai intended for The Garden of Words to capture love in a traditional sense: Yukari and Takao’s time together, caring about and helping one another out, is a form of love that can be experienced independently of age and station. It is the deliberate choosing of a high school student and an instructor in a setting crafted of rain and greenery, that expresses the idea that this particular tenderness is a form of love that is as genuine and authentic as any romantic love.

“You can’t tell just by looking at someone what they are dealing with inside.” –Danielle Rupp

While most avenues of discussion suggest that love is a central theme in The Garden of Words, I further contend that the film is meant to illustrate the impact of companionship and support for individuals afflicted with mental health challenges. In The Garden of Words, these themes are represented though allusions to learning to walk again, and taking tangible form in the shoes that Takao crafts for Yukari. Yukari’s frequent thoughts, that she’d felt as though she’s forgotten to walk is an indicator that she’s grappling with life, experiencing anxiety and depression as a consequence of events in her work environment. She becomes withdrawn, and the changes in her brain chemistry have a profound effect on her physiology: Yukari reveals to Takao that her reason for drinking beer and eating chocolate near-exclusively is that she has hypogeusia, a diminished sense of taste (some articles label it as dysgeusia, a superset of taste disorders that describes both partial and total loss of taste). Shinkai himself describes Yukari’s taste disorder as a metaphor for her mental health, and while it is seemingly a fanciful condition tailored to drive The Garden of Words‘ narrative, the working through things suggests that Yukari’s stress causes the quality of her diet to decrease, in turn resulting in a lessened zinc consumption. Zinc is a cofactor in enzymes and is involved in taste-related pathways, so a zinc deficiency sufficient to cause Yukari to lose much of her sense of taste would be indicative of her situation. Anxiety and depression leads Yukari to skip work and suffer from a decreased quality of life. Alone and without much in the way of assistance, it takes intervention taking the form of the determined Takao, to help her get back on track. In dealing with mental health, I’ve seen that a good support system is perhaps the single most aspect of intervention and recovery. These topics are always a challenge to deal with, especially since reporting is tricky and the lack of good data makes it difficult to learn the cause and potential solutions. However, awareness for mental health is much greater now than it was earlier, thanks to growing understanding of the importance of emotional well-being. In helping Yukari by being there for her, and giving her companionship, Takao acts as a catalyst for Yukari’s recovery, and Makoto Shinkai makes this explicit in his symbolism: in having Takao create a pair of shoes for Yukari, it signifies his determination to help Yukari walk again.

The presentation of rain as being a multi-faceted force in The Garden of Words is central to the movie’s magic: at times, it is a gentle, natural force that allow Yukari and Takao to interact together in slow, tender steps, but by the film’s conclusion, it is a tempest that crescendos into Takao’s confession and Yukari finally opening up to him. Occupying both ends of the spectrum, Shinkai’s masterful use of rain allows The Garden of Words to express emotions and thoughts that even colours and scenery together cannot. Weather has been utilised to great effect in fiction to further develop a narrative, and The Garden of Words is no different: in this film, Shinkai demonstrates that he is able to further his artwork’s ability to convey an idea in ways that his previous films did not explore too rigourously. A powerful force in The Garden of Words in bringing Yukari and Takao together, the power of rain was shortly demonstrated in reality: the Great Flood of 2013 I’ve alluded to in several of my earlier discussions is an interesting example of rain being able to cause both separation and togetherness. In its excess, the rainfall responsible for causing flooding throughout southern Alberta physically separated people, but it was in these difficult times that communities were unified by the flood, demonstrating exemplary citizenship to help one another out in the ways they could, whether it be something as simple as making a generous donation to the Red Cross and flood recovery efforts, or else selflessly stepping out into the field and helping flood victims clean up. Regardless of the scale of their actions, each individual who reached out in their own way to help was a part of that community, and while the Great Flood of 2013’s effects are still felt five years later, it is only because of the community’s actions that recovery has made substantial strides.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • When I last wrote about The Garden of Words, it was 2013. Battlefield 4 had been announced for three months, I had graduated with an Honours degree in Health Sciences, and the Great Flood had hit my area. The rapidly rising waters caused the university to close, and as I did not have a Mac to work on at the time, my research to grind to a halt. I noted in my original review that by The Garden of Words, Shinkai and his team had so finely honed their craft that his visuals became comparable to photographs in terms of detail and colouration. This image of the Tokyo streets is one such example, and at a glance, it really does look like a photograph. To put things in perspective as to what’s happened in the five years since, I’ve finished my Master’s Degree, worked for two years in software, earned my ni-dan in karate, travelled to Japan and are anticipating Battlefield V, which was showcased at this year’s EA Play.

  • The original The Garden of Words post I wrote featured thirty screenshots, but looking back, the post is quite devoid of content besides a basic “their loneliness brings them together”, praised the film for giving the male characters a more driven personality (as opposed to the passiveness that defines Takaki) and remarked that the movie’s strongest point is how focused and concise it is. This post features forty screenshots, all of which can be viewed at full resolution. Rather than diverting time towards symbolism, The Garden of Words weaves symbolism directly into the narrative. In doing so, the character’s eventual fates are clearly presented, leaving no loose ends that became somewhat of a challenge in Five Centimeters per Second.

  • When Takao first meets Yukari, there’s little indicator of what she does or how old she is. She leaves Takao with a tanka from the manyōshū‘s eleventh volume: besides suggesting that the rain brought them together, it’s something that only literature instructors or enthusiasts would be able to recite. Takao is wrapped up in the moment and does not realise this, taking an interest in the fact that Yukari has an enigmatic air to her that seems quite enchanting. This chance meeting, seemingly willed by the rain itself, sets in motion the film’s events.

  • To emphasise the theme of isolation in The Garden of Words, Shinkai presents his supporting characters as being distant, engrossed in their own worlds to be of much help to either Yukari or Takao. For Takao, his mother is more interested in chasing men than caring for her family, while his older brother is moving out with his girlfriend and cannot otherwise spare much time to listen to Takao’s concerns. Similarly, Yukari’s colleagues and coworkers are only able to do so much for her. Thus, with limited support from the most obvious sources, Yukari and Takao’s fateful meeting drive them to turn towards one another.

  • As they spend more time together, bits and pieces of each individual comes out into play. Besides using extensive use of rain imagery, the events of The Garden of Words also dealt greatly with mental health; Shinkai may have intended for his works to convey a certain theme, and the more prominent anime writers out there have largely focused on the movie as a love story of sorts, the focus of The Garden of Words on everyday events means that some ideas can be derived from the film’s events even if they are not immediately apparent. This is the advantage about being multi-disciplinary – one is afforded different perspectives on things that would be missed in the absence of familiarity with a particular discipline.

  • Mental health is a highly relevant topic in the present, although it is still an elephant in the proverbial room: traditionally, men have always been told to “man up” and tough out whatever challenges they encounter in life. When I went through my rough spot following the Great Flood of 2013, I (foolishly) figured that what I was feeling was a one-off, and that I’d be back on my feet in a matter of days. Days turned to weeks, and weeks turned to months. My particular approach to recovery was largely an individual process, but I know now that I can, and should, turn to those around me if anything difficult should occur. I remark that, to come out of a post saying that folks shouldn’t read into diagnosing fictional characters with mental health conditions and then to proceed to do just this for my The Garden of Words post is to be hypocritical. However, my intent here is to demonstrate the strength of a theme in a narrative where mental health was evidently meant to be at the forefront of discussion – nowhere in my discussion do I attempt to diagnose Yukari, and I use generalisations to illustrate the messages.

  • Because mental health is such a difficult topic to discuss, I am not particularly surprised that discussions about The Garden of Words have not made mention about things like depression, support networks and the like. I’m normally quite critical of anime reviews for missing important details, but for The Garden of Words, I make an exception because mental health is not a trivial matter to discuss. With this being said, current approaches to mental health remain very clinical in nature, and not everyone requires this clinical solution: The Garden of Words shows Yukari recovering without anti-depressants. While there are definitely cases requiring medical intervention, for more moderate cases, some companionship and adventure might just be what one needs. Of course, what works will vary from individual to individual, but it should be clear that not everyone requires clinical intervention just because they’re having a few bad days.

  • After the flood waters receded, the weather in Southern Alberta became remarkably nice: Canada Day that year saw some of the most spectacular weather I’d known, but I still vividly recall feeling quite down in the aftermath of the flood. Under a blazing hot sun, I enjoyed a Flamethrower Grill burger from the DQ nearby and spent the afternoon playing Vindictus, but I had been filled with a sense of longing and for the longest time, did not really understand what was the reason behind this feeling of melancholy. Five years later, I think I can answer that question – matters of the heart were troubling me, and the flood’s disruption precluded opportunities to assuage the sense of emptiness that was welling as my friends began going their separate ways following convocation. The sense of powerlessness to make my wishes a reality and isolation thus led me to suffer from poor spirits.

  • Unlike myself at the age of fifteen, Takao has a very clear vision of where his dreams lie, and what it takes to reach his chosen career of being a shoemaker even while in high school. At the age of fifteen, I was vaguely aware that my future lay in the sciences, likely biology, but otherwise did not make a concrete decision until I was in my final year of high school. In my university’s bioinformatics programme, I saw a path that would leave options open: I would gain background in both health and computer science. Indecision has been one of my old weaknesses, and it was only during the final year of my graduate studies programme that I decided that iOS development was a career I really desired.

  • In order to raise funds for his aspirations, Takao works at a variety of part-time positions, including that of a dishwasher. Although he is not particularly skillful at shoemaking, his innate passion for the career provides him with his drive to practise his craft. At his age, this is viewed as an expensive hobby rather than a viable career path, but his persistence is most admirable: while his friends are out enjoying the summer, he pushes towards his objectives.

  • A closeup of Takao and Yukari’s shoes find that Takao has crafted his own shoes. With a reasonably-priced pair of shoes going around 80-110 CAD while on sale, I’ve found that good shoes should be able to last about two years under normal wear-and-tear conditions, but gone are the days when I have a single pair of general-purpose shoes for the more pleasant times of year and second pair of shoes for the winter.  In this image, minor details in the environment, such as the ripples of raindrops hitting water on the ground, are also visible.

  • During my trip to Japan last year, I did not have the opportunity to visit Shinjuku Gyoen, but we did pass by on the way to the Meiji Jinju, which was an oasis in the middle of Tokyo. The joys of large parks such as these give the sense of a sanctuary amidst a world that is constantly moving: at the heart of the park, it was calm and quiet. Here, I saw a sight that until then, I’d only seen in anime: groups of students praying for success in their exams. We later visited the Imperial Palace in Chiyoda and found groups of students eating lunch there.

  • One of the things on my mind is how the weather for the upcoming summer will be. Spring this year’s been quite nice even if it has been a bit rainy, and moving into the summer, meteorologists are forecasting that the prairies will have a summer with near-normal precipitation and temperatures. These are my most favourite times of year, when the days are long and the skies fair: I am hoping to spend a few weekends doing day trips in the nearby mountains should the weather be favourable.

  • When Takao begins cooking for Yukari and inspires her to begin cooking again, Yukari’s sense of taste is gradually restored. An improving diet is the biochemical reason why this occurs, but this is worked cleverly into the narrative to suggest that it is the act of being together with someone, to share one’s burdens, that prompts this change. It typifies Makoto Shinkai’s ability to craft powerful metaphors and symbols into his stories without sacrificing scientifically plausibility: while his stories cannot always be said to confirm fully with reality, a sufficient number of elements are accurate so that his stories’ more fanciful elements are not too detracting.

  • Images of Takao and Yukari sharing time together in Shinjuku Gyoen remain the single most enduring imagery pertaining to The Garden of Words, similar to the spectacle that Comet Tiamat yielded in Your Name. Being able to create immediately recognisable scenery has driven up Shinkai’s stock amongst fans: while Shinkai is modest and cautions audiences against comparing him to Hayao Miyazaki, I find that Shinkai’s single greatest contribution is his unique talent for making use of colour and light in highly detailed environments to assist in his narratives. Compared to Miyazaki, Shinkai’s characters tend to be stylised to a lesser extent and so, are not always as expressive as those of Miyazaki’s. Instead, Shinkai takes a different approach: expressiveness in his films is achieved through the use of the environments in conjunction with the characters’ facial expressions and tones.

  • The expression “no man is an island” is applicable to the events of The Garden of Words, being sourced from John Donne’s “Devotions upon Emergent Occasions”, and looking back five years, the notion that we need human contact in order to maintain our mental well-being is reinforced. In Yukari’s position, it can seem a Herculean task to break out of her melancholy, and Makoto Shinkai captures this reality in a very fluid, believable manner: it is her happenstance meeting with Takao that sets in motion change.

  • Yukari is voiced by Kana Hanazawa, who has played notable roles in many of the anime I’ve seen, including but not limited to Nagi-Asu: A Lull in the Sea‘s Manaka Mukaido, Cleo Saburafu of Broken Blade, Sonoko Nogi of Yūki Yūna is a Hero, Gabriel Dropout‘s Raphiel Shiraha and Infinite Stratos‘ Charlotte Dunois. By comparison, Miyu Irino, who provides Takao’s voice, I’m only familiar with for his role as Mobile Suit Gundam 00‘s Saji Crossroad.

  • Takao measuring Yukari’s feet in the beginnings of his plan to craft a pair of shoes for her is the one of the most tender moments in The Garden of Words, attesting to how far the two have come to trust one another since their first meeting. Shinkai meticulously details the process that Takao takes in capturing the dimensions of Yukari’s foot, conveying intimacy as deeply as when Akari and Takaki shared their first kiss during the events of Five Centimeters per Second.

  • Takao’s older brother resembles Children Who Chase Lost Voices From Deep Below‘s Ryūji Morisak, Asuna’s substitute instructor whose knowledge of the mythical Agartha is extensive. Takao’s brother’s girlfriend bears some resemblance to Akari Shinohara. Of his older films, Akari and Sayuri of The Place Promised in Our Early Days look quite similar, as well. Shinkai’s exceptional prowess as an artist nowithstanding, one of the few limitations about his art style are how his characters can look quite similar to one another. By Your Name, however, his team’s craft has definitely improved: Mitsuha and Taki look unique, unlike any of his previous characters.

  • Takao explicitly notes that he’s attracted to the air of mystery surrounding Yukari, but when he returns to school, it turns out that Yukari is actually one of the instructors here. The truth is soon shown to him: she’s a classical Japanese instructor who got into a spot of trouble when a younger male student developed a crush on her, and said student’s girlfriend retaliated with a series of rumours. I cannot speak to how things would be handled in Canada if such an occurrence were to be real, but it would likely be a major news story that would certainly force the school board to launch an inquiry.

  • While seemingly far-fetched for students to go to such lengths to discredit their instructors, high school drama is quite real. I recount a story where a fellow classmate, salty about the fact that I was kicking ass in introductory science course seemingly without any effort in our first year, accused me of harassment. The individual’s parents got the administration involved and I was warned that a suspension could follow, even though I had not acted against this individual directly. I argued that without any hard evidence beyond said individual’s word, their very efforts to get me suspended was in and of itself harassment. The administration realised they’d been pranked and promptly dismissed things, leaving me with a hilarious story about how I out-played this individual, although that is only in retrospect: there was nothing remotely funny about things at the time.

  • School rooftops have featured in anime with a similar frequency as the coveted spot in the back corner of the classroom beside the window. Questions have been posed concerning this, and the answer is a very mundane, unordinary one: it is much easier to animate these locations owing to the ability to illustrate a smaller number of people, reducing the costs associated with animating busy scenes. Having said that, Makoto Shinkai is not one to shy away from incredible levels of detail in his films, so his inclusion of a school rooftop and its quiet environs is intended for another purpose: to visually convey the sort of loneliness that surrounds Yukari’s story.

  • The fellow in the red T-shirt is a big guy…for Takao. After Takao slaps Aizawa, the senior student for having caused Yukari this much grief, the big guy steps in and displays a lot of loyalty for a mere friend of Aizawa’s: he decks Takao, sending him into the floor. A fight ensues, leaving a few scratches on Takao’s face. The fight’s outcome is not shown because Shinkai feels it to be not relevant: what matters is the fact that Takao’s feelings have precipitated this moment. In the manga, the big guy continues beating on Takao, but like the film, Takao rushes him. Because his injuries are light, it stands to reason that he manages to win this fight, or at least, surprises the big guy long enough to escape. Aizawa is voiced by Mikako Komatsu, whom I know best as Nagi no Asukara‘s Miuna Shiodome and Sakura Quest‘s Sanae Kouzuki.

  • Some of my insights on The Garden of Words come from the manga, which I bought two Thanksgivings ago: the weather that day had not been conducive for a drive out to the mountains, being quite foggy, but was just fine for visiting a local bookstore. The remainder of this revisitation, containing just a ways under half of the screenshots in the post, deals with the film’s final act. This is not an accident: the final act is an emotional journey that sees Shinkai’s writing at its finest. His stories are at their strongest when his characters are honest and open with their feelings.

  • When Yukari and Takao meet again under the gazebo of Shinjuku Gyoen, they are caught in a torrential downpour. I vividly remember the June 21st of five years ago as though it were yesterday. After receiving an email from the university that campus was closed on account of the flood, and having left my laptop on campus, I was unable to get any work done that day. It was an unexpected day off, and I spent it reviewing The Garden of Words, as well as playing through Metro: Last Light, which I got complementary with my GTX 660. I’d only just watched the movie the night before, and with rain dousing the Southern Alberta region, the irony of watching a movie about rain when rain waters were causing flooding was not lost on me.

  • The rains began in earnest on June 20 after the skies filled with rain clouds, and some areas of the city begun evacuations as water levels surged in the Bow and Elbow rivers. The whole of the city centre was covered in water on June 21, and the Stampede Grounds were flooded, as well. By June 22, the rains had lessened, and the flood waters began receding. Tales of courage and sacrifice to save people emerged, along with the comprehension of just how much damage the flood had caused. When the weekend ended, and the extent of the flood’s became known, I made a substantial donation to the Red Cross for Flood relief. Meanwhile, some of my friends working with companies over the summer began helping out with the cleanup effort.

  • The waters had fully retreated come late June, and the weather became the characteristic of an early July in Calgary: hot and sunny. However, even as I returned to my routine in writing simulations for my research lab, a melancholy had gripped me. The cause was unknown at the time, but the sum of extraordinarily good weather, the inability to make the most of my summer days, some love-sickness and the fact that most of my friends were going their separate ways following convocation would have likely been the reason for this melancholy. A summer later, I would go on to buy the book “The Flood of 2013: A Summer of Angry Rivers”, whose proceeds would go towards flood recovery.

  • Slender and beautiful, Yukari is quite unlike any of Shinkai’s previous female leads. Freed from their role as teacher and student, the two enjoy their rainy afternoon together, with Takao cooking for Yukari. Their conversation is not heard, with a wistful track overlaid as background music, affording the two characters a modicum of privacy in a similar manner that Daniel Handler used in A Series of Unfortunate Events: The Slippery Slope, when Violet and Quigley are given some time alone halfway up the frozen waterfall. It’s a literary device that is intended to show characters in more personal, intimate moments, and while the bond that Yukari and Takao share cannot be said to be romantic love, it does count as love in a sense.

  • In my original The Garden of Words post, I had a close-up of the omurice that Takao’s cooked. I’ve made an effort to ensure that no image was duplicated from the original post, but unlike previous years, where it became difficult to do consecutive posts on the K-On! Movie because of overlap, the artwork in any given Makoto Shinkai film is so diverse that picking unique screenshots were not a challenge. Over the span of the five years that have passed since I first watched this, much has happened, and one of those things includes my having omurice, albeit one that dispenses with the ketchup on top in favour of a curry in Osaka. It’s a simple but filling dish – the incarnation I had katsu, so I could say I had the equivalent of omurice and curry rice all in one go.

  • During an awkward point in their conversation, Takao declares that he loves Yukari, but when Yukari seemingly rejects him, he takes off. Not quite understanding what’s happened, Yukari runs after him. As I have experienced, Takao is confusing his appreciation of Yukari’s company, and his desire to help her, for romantic love. It’s perhaps more of a bond of friendship, or even parental love, that has come out of this relationship: Takao is charmed by Yukari’s mystery and the positive feelings he gains by helping her. This compassion and empathy for someone else is a compelling force that one can indeed fall in love with, although people can sometimes mistake this as falling in love with a person.

  • This is not to say that falling in love with helping people, and romantic love with a person, are mutually exclusive. Takao probably harbours feelings for Yukari to some extent, and she, for him, although these are overshadowed by the positive feelings they’ve developed as friends. Challenges in differentiating from between the two can cause younger people, like myself, to pursue relationships they sense to be sustainable. Sometimes, things work out for the better, strengthening the couple and allowing them to find happiness, while other times, things don’t work out so well.

  • At the film’s climax, Takao finally expresses his own resentment at Yukari’s air of mystery – the very thing he was attracted to about her becomes a source of pain when he learns that she’s a teacher, and stung by her rejection, he demands her to be truthful, voicing that his dreams are unrealistic and unattainable, that her refusal in opening up to him and being truthful led him on in a manner of speaking. The sum of their emotions build, and breaks over right as the sun comes out, washing the land in a golden light.

  • Yukari’s refusal to mirror Takao’s accusations shows that, rather than acting out of malice or spite, her unwillingness to open up to him is mainly because of her own experiences. When the sun appears, it represents the reappearance of truth. Both Takao and Yukari are honest with their feelings, as well as how they feel about one another. In this moment, Shinkai again demonstrates his masterful use of the weather to advance the story – including Your Name, no other Shinkai film ever draws so heavily on the weather in its narrative.

  • Following the events of the flood, I invited a friend out to the Calgary Stampede as a date to express thanks for having attended my convocation and helping me take photographs, as well as for having listened to my numerous grievances about the summer, and unwaveringly providing support by ways of listening to me. The day progressed as one might expect a summer festival would in anime, with the guy buying drinks for the girl and impressing her by winning a stuffed animal for her at the midway games. That there was a Stampede at all that year was no small feat: the Stampede grounds were cleaned up after the flood, and attendees wore “Through Hell or High Water” T-shirts. It was a herculean effort to clean up the grounds and prepare for that year’s Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth: the event was a great success, attesting to the community’s resilience in face of adversity.

  • By July, the weather had become extremely pleasant, but I had fallen into a summer melancholy, longing for the company of friends. The resentment that I was stuck is mirrored in my blog posts from the time; a hint of bitterness can be found in the writing. I concentrated as best as I could on my research project and managed to build a distributed simulation system, where multiple computers could each run individual modules representing one body system, and passed messages to one another to give the sense that the entire simulation was on one system. I also went on two road trips into open country near the end of summer (one to Canmore, and one to Jasper), lifting my spirits.

  • However, it would not be until the spring a year later, when I was asked to help with the Giant Walkthrough Brain project, that I truly began feeling myself again. Having come fresh from heartbreak during April, I entered the summer with a newfound determination to immerse myself in a new project to dilute the pain of loss. The outcome of this was that I left the summer far happier than I had been for the past year. Here, Takao places the completed pair of shoes for Yukari. After the film’s climax, Yukari heads home and accepts a new teaching position, while Takao continues studying to be a shoemaker. His promise of having Yukari walk again in the shoes he’s crafted her is seemingly unfulfilled in the film, but in spite of this, he maintains a resolute belief in finding her again once he’s made some steps in his own career.

  • Shinkai uses walking as an analogy for facing life’s challenges, and shoes become a symbol for a tool in aiding walking. Takao’s finished product represents his commitment to her well-being – the shoes are beautiful and capture the beauty that is Yukari. Here, I note that the earliest shoes date back a few thousand years. However, it is hypothesised that humans began wearing shoes around 40000 years ago, corresponding with changes to our skeletal features in the foot. This likely coincides with our migration away from warmer climates, where footwear would along us to walk greater distances without being affected by temperature extremities.

  • In the manga, Takao mentions that time without Yukari has flown by, also showing that Yukari has received Takao’s shoes and is now wearing them. The movie is careful with its framing to not show this explicitly and leave open for viewers what the outcome was, while the manga implies that Yukari and Takao do end up meeting again. Yukari’s appearance in Your Name is an interesting one, conflicting with her presence in The Garden of Words, so it’s best to suppose that, à la Rick and Morty, Your Name and The Garden of Words are set in alternate dimensions in the multiverse. I’ve seen failed efforts to work this out; attempts are inconclusive owing to flawed reasoning. Ergo, my explanation is the only one that is viable.

  • I feel that, compared to my original review five years ago, this The Garden of Words review is the true review that the film and readers deserve. Themes are better explored, and even though I am reminiscing for a greater half of the post, I am using this retrospective to better frame the themes. I think I’ve succeeded with this post. I originally set out to take another look at The Garden of Words because it marks the five-year anniversary to the Great Flood of 2013, and in doing so, learned a great deal about myself and developed a newfound appreciation for The Garden of Words, as well. Because of these insights, I now say with conviction that The Garden of Words is a veritable masterpiece, scoring a full ten of ten: despite its short runtime, it fully captures and explores a plethora of themes, including those dealing with mental health, in a meaningful manner. This film changed the way I view the world, and for this, it has earned its perfect score from me in spades.

The Garden of Words is one of Makoto Shinkai’s strongest works, matching Five Centimeters per Second in emotional impact despite its shorter length. An exquisite amalgamation of sight, sound and narrative that is neatly packaged into a concise, focused story that is very clear about its goals, my own enjoyment of the film is further augmented by the imagery of rain depicted throughout The Garden of Words. Although I did not realise it at the time, my own experiences with relationships (or at least, efforts to) stem from my falling in love with the idea of helping people, rather than being related to falling in love with a person per se. Similar to Takao, I feel drawn to being able to have someone lean on me, and at the time, it definitely did feel like falling in love; in retrospect, it is love in this form that likely manifested, and a part of the melancholy I found during the summer of 2013 was feeling so disconnected from an individual in the flood’s aftermath. However, having re-watched The Garden of Words with a new mindset, looking back, it is not such a terrible thing to be in love with helping others, and like Five Centimeters per Second before it, The Garden of Words is indeed a film that can withstand the test of time, being as enjoyable to watch today as it was when it came out five years ago. There is one important distinction: this time around, precipitation during this month has been normal, and the weather is fine, so the chances of seeing another flood like The Great Flood of 2013 are thankfully slim.