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Tag Archives: Film Reflection

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.

A Photogrammetry Exercise in Kimi no Na wa (Your Name): Determining the location of Taki’s Apartment and a fly-through from Tokyo to Hida

“Where is Taki’s apartment located?”

This question was posed by one of our readers shortly after Your Name began screening in Japan, and at the time, information about the film, especially amongst the English language anime community, was limited. Consequently, when I received the question, I wondered if it were even possible to answer it accurately. For one, metro Tokyo is the world’s largest city, and even Tokyo Proper has a surface area of 2187.66 km² and a population of 13 617 445 as of 2016. By comparison, Calgary has a tenth of the population, and it’s already tricky enough to find things here — it took me ages to realise that Pure Pwnage‘s Lannagedon event was hosted at the Bowness Community Centre, for instance. However, the challenge was an intriguing one, and I began wondering how to go about solving it. When I recalled an episode of The Raccoons back in July, I felt that I had my answer: in the episode “Search and Rescue”, Bert Raccoon and Cedric Sneer go looking for a meteorite that lands on Jack Pine Island in the Evergreen Forest. Assuming that recovering the meteorite is a day trip, the two do not leave any information behind as to where they went, and when their raft floats off from the island, the two find themselves stranded. Despite the effort of their friends, who search the Evergreen Forest through the night for them, the two are not found until the next morning. After Lady Baden-Baden reveals that she saw the meteorite, Professor Smedley-Smythe is able to use triangulation to work out where the impactor landed, leading to Bert and Cedric’s rescue. The concept of triangulation is a reasonably simple one: if there are at least two known points, then the location of an unknown point can be determined by forming a triangle by means of the existing points. The version in The Raccoons is the simplest one: the baseline distance and angles are not used, as a map is available. However, slightly more involved forms allow for a distance to the unknown point to be determined provided that one knows the baseline distance between two observes and the relative angle of this baseline to their line of sight. In this exercise, I apply a variation of the technique, plus several landmarks in the Tokyo, to form the starting point for answering this question.

Locating Taki’s Apartment

  • Figure I: Taki viewing Tiamat’s fragment splitting up in the eastward direction. The Yoyogi Tower and Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building are highlighted in this image for clarity. All of the images in this post can be expanded for viewing at full resolution.

  • Figure II: A section of the Tokyo skyline seen in Your Name. Here, I’ve highlighted some of the buildings visible in the image. Landmarks with a red label were used in my preliminary estimates to narrow down which area Taki’s apartment is located in.

  • Figure III: Approximation of where the skyline in Figure II might be viewed from. Using the four landmarks and roughly their angles, the area one can begin looking for Taki’s apartment is highlighted in blue, enclosed by the sightlines. All of the map data in this discussion are sourced from Google Maps and have been modified to improve clarity.

From footage in Your Name, Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building and the nearby Yoyogi Building is visible from Taki’s apartment (Fig I). In the image, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building is right of the Yoyogi building. Inspection of a map allows us to work out that Taki’s apartment must be east of these buildings. The second set of points we can use can be derived from the fact that Taki is seen leaving home with Tokyo’s skyline visible on the horizon (Fig II, Fig IV, Fig V, Fig VI, Fig VII). Visible in the frame’s left-hand-side is Akasaka Palace, accommodations for visiting state dignitaries. Tokyo Tower is also visible, along with the Embassy of Canada as the frame pans right. Thus, we can use Tokyo Tower and the Embassy of Canada as the first of the known points for our calculations: in the images, the Tokyo Tower is left of the Embassy of Canada, so we can reason out that the scene is taken from a point north of these buildings. The estimated sight lines allow us to constrain Taki’s apartment to an area in Shinanomachi, Wakaba, Yotsuyasakamachi (Fig III). These are densely-built up neighbourhoods, and while we’ve worked out roughly where Taki’s apartment could be, exploring the area bit-by-bit would still take a while. Fortunately, we have two more points that makes the calculations easier to approximate: Akasaka State Property is visible in the frame shown when Taki (Mitsuha) is looking over Tokyo. We use this to further constrain the possible region to an area west of the Akasaka State Property (Fig II). The second point is rather more subtle – there’s a small apartment complex called the Meiji Park Heights, and it is visible in the image’s lower right hand corner (Fig VII, VIII). This apartment is located southwest of Taki, so using the same technique and tracing backwards, we find a line that passes over a community centre north of the Chou Main Line (Fig IX).

  • Figure IV: Identifying buildings visible from the perspective seen in Your Name. When we zoom in to the area highlighted in Figure III and rotate the camera, we find a distinct set of landmarks not dissimilar to the buildings seen in Figure II. I use some of the more distinct skyscrapers in the image as comparisons.

  • Figure V: The equivalent spot from Figure IV in Your Name. Amongst the buildings I’ve looked at include the 43-story Park Court Akasaka: The Tower, a residential complex that was completed in 2009, the Sogetsu Concert Hall and the Embassy of Canada. The Embassy of Canada was chosen as a point primarily because of its distinct roof. This building was completed in 1991.

  • Figure VI: Panning east from the perspective in Figure IV. When the camera pans right, other buildings become visible, including Tokyo Midtown, a mixed-use building that is, with its height of 248 meters (814 feet), the second-tallest in Tokyo. By comparison, Brookfield Place East of Calgary will have a completed height of 247 meters (810 feet). Other buildings highlighted for their visibility include the International Medical Welfare University Graduate School, Honda Welcome Plaza Aoyama and the TK Minami-Aoyama Building.

  • Figure VII: The equivalent spot from Figure IV in Your Name. With the number of familiar landmarks visible in Your Name, we can say that Taki’s apartment must be located close to the Akasaka Imperial Property. There is one final structure that is present when the camera pans, and this is the Meiji Park Heights, with its distinct roof and windows.

  • Figure VIII: A closer view of Meiji Park Heights. Despite its unassuming appearance from 3D imagery, the building houses spacious, luxury apartment units and is conveniently located to two train stations, as well as the Akasaka grounds. With two-bedroom units that have a total area of close to 1125 square feet (110.41 square meters), rentals start at 350000 Yen per month (3900 CAD), more than double that of an equivalent in Calgary (1500 CAD per month).

  • Figure IX: Using the Akasaka State Property and Meiji Park Heights to constrain the possible region of Taki’s apartment further. The Akasaka State Property was visible in Figure II, and together with the Meiji Park Heights, allow us to say that Taki’s apartment must be in a narrow area where both structures are visible. Using the sightlines running east-west, the possible location of Taki’s apartment can be searched for in the highlighted area.

We now have an area small enough so that we can start looking around manually, and immediately north of the community centre are some apartment complexes. We are left with several options: Taki lives in an apartment with an outdoor hallway, which allows us to eliminate a larger apartment nearby with windows facing south, as well as a green-roofed apartment (Fig X, XI). Adjacent to the green-roofed apartment is a slightly taller apartment, and while it has south-facing balconies, this is our candidate, located at the address 〒160-0011 Tōkyō-to, Shinjuku-ku, Wakaba, 1 Chome-22-15. The building itself is called 離宮ハイム (Rikyū haimu), and from details in the film, Taki lives on the sixth floor. Despite the descrepancies in design, especially with respect to the placement of balconies and the angle of sunlight seen in the film, when we descend down for a closer look along a road, it becomes apparent that we’ve located Taki’s apartment. Details in the road he’s seen running along, both to school and to meet up with Miki for his date, line up with what is visible from the site’s real world location (Fig XII, XIII, XIV, XV). Without the use of too much trigonometry, we’ve found Taki’s apartment with some reasoning, a bit more guesswork and liberal use of Google Maps. I remark that a more precise and sophisticated technique can be applied here: because we have the heights of the Tokyo Tower and Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building, clever use of a clinometer and the screenshots can also allow one to approximate the distance to the buildings and determine where the screenshots are roughly located.

  • Figure X: Highlighting Taki’s apartment and the route he’s seen taking to school and on his date with Miki. Taki’s apartment is highlighted in blue, while the route we see him take is given in red. From exploring the area given in Figure IX, Taki’s apartment was located in the space of around two minutes.

  • Figure XI: Corridor outside of Taki’s aparment. Close inspection of the unit numbers find that Taki lives on the sixth floor, although his apartment has a covered corridor compared to the unit located in the real-world location. However, as the structure needs to be suited for plot-related elements, the discrepancies are readily accepted without much concern.

  • Figure XII: Street-level view looking south from the road leading from Taki’s apartment. Quite ordinary and unremarkable by any definition, it is possible to use Google Street View to approximate a small section of Taki’s route, and I imagine that folks in Tokyo familiar with the region can trace his path to school and the route he takes when meeting Miki for a date with total accuracy.

  • Figure XIII: The equivalent spot from Figure XII in Your Name. The extent to which details are reproduced are incredible: whether it be the placement of mirrors, the potted plants beside the apartment on the right, the vending machine or the skyline, we have a near-perfect reproduction within Your Name of the location.

  • Figure XIV: The road going down the hillside leading from Taki’s apartment. The real-world location is filled with shrubbery, with the skyline barely visible, whereas in Your Name, there is less vegetation that allows the skyline to be more clearly seen.

  • Figure XV: The equivalent spot from Figure XIV in Your Name. While I never visited this spot during my time in Tokyo back in May, the closest I got from Taki’s apartment and the Suga Shrine would have been around 2.6 klicks, when I visited the Meiji Jingu Garden. This was the first destination that was on my itinerary in Tokyo.

The Giant Flythough Kimi no Na Wa

During the opening credits to Your Name, there’s also a brief moment where the camera flies from Taki’s apartment in Tokyo, through the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building, out to rural Japan and eventually, Itomori (Fig XVI). This is undoubtedly an impressive feat of animation and a visual treat to behold on its own, but there is a pleasant surprise to this, as well – if one were to project a line from Taki’s apartment in the heading as depicted in the film, they would end up in Hida, Gifu, passing over Lake Suwa along the way (Fig XVII, XVIII). In total, roughly 237 kilometers of distance separates the location of Taki’s apartment in Tokyo from Hida in the Gifu prefecture. While some might consider this a mere coincidence, the level of detail Makoto Shinkai and his team put into their art is nothing short of exceptional, so I imagine that this was a deliberate design in keeping with the thematic elements within the movie. Whereas Shinkai’s earlier themes were more about distance, Your Name deals predominantly with connections and how distances can be closed: the Chinese term “緣份” (jyutping jyun4 fan6, “fate”) describes the movie neatly, as it appears that supernatural forces compel Taki and Mitsuha to meet. That their homes lie along the same line is a clever element added to the film, and while subtle, serves to reinforce notions that Taki and Mitsuha must meet in order to convey the thematic elements in the movie. With this in mind, it is likely that Shinkai and his team worked backwards, choosing the rural location and then corresponding it with a location in Tokyo; it is considerably more difficult to pick a rural location suitable for Mitsuha, whereas in Tokyo, the dense urban build-up means that Taki could have been placed anywhere in central Tokyo without any substantial impact to the narrative.

  • Figure XVI: Stills from the opening scene in Your Name depicting a fly-over from Taki’s apartment in Tokyo to Mitsuha’s house in Itomori. Starting from the roof of Taki’s apartment (1) and flying east over the Tokyo cityscape (2) towards the Tokyo Metropolitian Government Building (3), the camera moves through the gap between the two towers (4) out into rural Japan after a transition (5), eventually landing in Itomori (6).

  • Figure XVII: Approximation of the route covered by the route seen in the opening in the real world. The red path highlighted shows this: in the upper left, the route covered between Figure XVI’s (1), (2) and (3) are shown. The opening shortens things after (4) is reached. Curiously enough, the line intersects Suwa Lake before landing in the small town of Hida in Gifu. During my visit to Japan, we passed by Suwa Lake after leaving the Ikenotaira Hotel beside the shores of Shirakaba Lake en route to Nagoya and Gifu.

  • Figure XVIII: Overhead view of the entire route from Tokyo to Hida, Gifu, intersecting with Lake Suwa. The total distance separating Taki’s apartment from Suwa Lake is 154 kilometers, while the full distance from Hida to Tokyo as the mole digs is 243 kilometers. To put things in perspective, Red Deer to Calgary is a little less than 154 kilometers, while Edmonton and Calgary are separated by a distance of 270 kilometers.

Closing Remarks

An interesting point to note is that only 480 metres separates Taki’s old apartment from the Suga Shrine. This entire exercise only took around five minutes to complete, although the post itself took a ways longer to draft out: from exploring the areas by means of Google Maps’ Street View and 3D utilities, it becomes clear that, as with Suga Shrine, Your Name takes some creative liberties in recreating locales for the film but nonetheless retains considerable accuracy. That it is possible to apply a bit of triangulation and make use of a commonplace tool to precisely determine where the events of an anime film occur, is itself a testament to how far technology has come in recent years. Sophisticated techniques for obtaining stereographic data to create 3D maps has made photogrammetry, the process of using imagery for locating structures and objects, increasingly accessible to all users: Google has optimised their 3D maps so even computers with an Intel Iris GPU can view maps in 3D. Such tools make it effortless to figure out where one’s destinations are, what road layout and traffic controls lie along a hitherto unexplored route and gain a preview of what things look like on the ground at a location halfway across the world. With tools of this calibre, quickly ascertaining locations within anime becomes a much more straightforwards task, especially if one is familiar with a handful of landmarks in the area of interest. All of these sophisticated tools means that hopefully, I’ve adequately answered the question posed: when asked “where is Taki’s apartment located?”, I can suitably respond “〒160-0011 Tōkyō-to, Shinjuku-ku, Wakaba, 1 Chome-22-15“. Back in The Raccoons, for Bert and Cedric, being lost on an island now simply means sending out a phone call and tagging their location to simplify the search and rescue process. Having said this, some lessons, such as informing others of their intended activities and destinations, continue to endure even if the technology we’ve presently got far outstrips anything that was available in 1989.

Warm, Winter Canada: Canada The Anime, or, Makoto Shinkai brings to life Canada’s most famous season in time for Canada 150

“Ours is a land of original peoples, and of newcomers. And our greatest pride is that you can come here from anywhere in the world, build a good life and be part of our community. We don’t care where you’re from, or what religion you practice, or whom you love, you are all welcome in Canada!” —The Rt Hon. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau

The rest of the world knows the True North as a nation of maple syrup-loving, hockey-watching and polite folks accustomed to the second most intense winters of the world (Canada loses the crown of having the harshest winters only to Russia, for which our weak winters are no match for Real Soviet Winter™). Here’s an insider secret – only half of that is true, half of the time. What remains steadfast in our nation, however, is our multiculturalism and wonderfully diverse seasons – these are the things that I am most proud of as a Canadian, and this year also happens to be the nation’s 150th birthday. Known officially as the 150th anniversary of Confederation, Canada 150 commemorates the point in our history where Canada became an independent nation when, back in 1867, the Quebec Conference saw the unification of British Colonies into a single Dominion. Compared to other nations, such as Egypt and China, we are definitely a young nation whose name on the world stage once extended to humanitarianism, a staunch commitment to peacekeeping and a general acceptance of diversity. The vast wilderness of Canada is also something Canada is known for around the world, drawing over twenty million visitors last year. It is this side of Canada that Makoto Shinkai chooses to depict in his thirty-second advertisement, which follows Yuya Miyagi, a salaryman who’s been working for five years. Behind his stoic and practical exterior lies an adventurous side. So, when his girlfriend, Satsuki Koumi, finds herself under tremendous stress from work, Yuya decides to invite her to the True North Strong, where they visit some of Canada’s most celebrated destinations by winter.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • The first moment in Warm, Winter Canada is of Cascade Mountain in Banff from Banff Avenue at Buffalo Street. The Dave White Block is visible on the left of the image, while the Clocktower Village Mall can be seen to the right hand side. A town of 7847 as of 2016, Banff is one of the most famous destinations in the Canadian Rockies and was founded in 1885, two years after William McCardell and Frank McCabe descended down a fallen tree trunk into a hole in the ground, stumbling across what is now the Cave and Basin. Knowledge of the hot springs predates these two railway workers – James Hector made the first mention of the site in 1859 while on the Palliser Expedition.

  • Yuya and Satsuki enjoy a view of Rundle Mountain from the frozen surface of Lake Minnewanka. Visible from the Trans-Canada Highway, Mount Rundle has a distinct knife-like shape when seen from the Vermillion Lakes, extends twelve kilometers, and its highest point is 2949 metres. I’ve never actually been to Banff by winter before owing to winter roads, but having seen photographs (and now, this short), I’m compelled to make use of the complementary park pass and swing by come December, when Banff Avenue is adjorned with Christmas decorations and lights.

  • This talk on Warm, Winter Canada now holds the distinction of having the highest screenshot density of any post I’ve ever written: the previous record belonged to Utopia (a True TearsHanasaku Iroha and Tari Tari crossover), with one screenshot per 6.67 seconds. Before Utopia, my talk on Cross road held the record for one screenshot every 12 seconds, and Someone’s Gaze had one screenshot every 18 seconds. However, with a runtime of thirty seconds, and the fact that I have a total of twenty screenshots here, Warm, Winter Canada utterly defeats the old numbers with one screenshot every 1.5 seconds.

  • Satsuki and Yuya gaze at the “frozen bubbles” phenomenon at Abraham Lake, located alongside the David Thompson Highway between Saskatchewan River Crossing and Nordegg. Despite being an artificial lake, it has a distinct blue colouration as a result of rock flour, and the bubbles in the lake are caused by decaying plant matter from the lake bed. Of all the locations in Warm, Winter Canada, this is the only place I’ve not visited.

  • On the slopes of Mount Norquay overlooking the Banff Townsite. From here, Mount Norquay Road and the Banff Fenland Recreation Center are visible immediately beside Satsuki, along with the townsite and Banff Springs Hotel. This particular location was captured from an open meadow on the Banff Viewpoint, located two-thirds of the way up the Mount Norquay Scenic Drive. Admittedly, it feels nice to be doing a talk on locations I’m very familiar with: the first part of Warm, Winter Canada is set right in my backyard, located an hour and a half from Calgary.

  • Yuya and Satsuki visit the Granville Island Public Market next, with a span of the Granville Street Bridge visible in the background. The island was once an industrial area, but by 1972, the federal government invested in the area and converted it into a shopping district, adding the Public Market building in 1979. Since then, Granville Island has become one of Vancouver’s most well-known areas, renowned for an unparalleled shopping experience, offering a Farmer’s Market, street vendors and artists. The last time I visited Granville Island was back in 2001, and I still vividly recall the atmosphere.

  • JJ Bean is a coffee company that was established in 1996 by John Neate Jr. Headquartered in Vancouver, this coffee shop prides itself on using the best coffee beans and roasting techniques to create their coffee, although I’ve never tried their beverages out before, as they only have locations in Vancouver and Toronto.

  • Of the vendors at Granville Island Market, the Four Seasons Farms, Sunlight Farms and Granville Island Produce sell produce. Warm, Winter Canada depicts these items in extensive detail: fruits are especially appealing to render because of their rich colours and the play of light on them: this single frame showcases the sort of details that Shinkai’s team can render. With this in mind, I think that seafood, especially grilled Pacific Salmon with a maple syrup glaze, would be more reflective of Vancouver’s cuisine.

  • Yuya and Satsuki browse through the wares inside the Granville Island Market: Duso’s is visible to the left, and from this frame, it would appear the still of fresh blueberries, grapes, raspberries and apples are from Granville Island Produce. Duso’s is a store that specialises in Italian products, from cheese and cooking oil to marinara sauces and pasta. Established in the 1960s by the Duso family, this is one of the oldest establishments on Granville Island. The nature of the market reminds me somewhat of Sha Tin’s wet market, which I visited back in May.

  • Here, Yuya and Satsuki sample nuts at The Nut Merchant, a speciality shop that sells nuts of all manner. In addition to conventional salted nuts, The Nut Merchant also has amongst its offerings, maple almond. One must admire the attention to details in Warm, Winter Canada – I’ve taken a look at Japanese border laws, and it states that boiled, roasted, dried or salted nuts (save walnuts) can be brought back into Japan. Canadian customs allow nuts to be brought back if they have been commercially packaged, although being an agricultural nation, things like fresh produce, meat and dairy products must be declared and not exceed a certain amount.

  • Canada Place is a convention centre and cruise ship terminal on the Burrard Inlet at the heart of Vancouver. Completed in 1985, the site was expanded in 2001, and in 2003, I departed from here on a family vacation, a cruise with Celebrity Cruises to Alaska’s Inside Passage. In 2003, the distinct sculpture, The Drop, had not been available at the site yet: this addition was made in 2009. I’ve not been to Vancouver proper since 2003 – my last four visits were merely stop-overs at their airport.

  • Compared to Calgary, Vancouver has a warmer climate, more opportunity in technology and software and superior culture all around, but the caveat is that being the nicest city in Canada has also driven up the cost of living. While much less sophisticated, Calgary has the advantage of shorter commutes, a slightly lower cost of living and more weather diversity (we’re one of the few places in the world where it goes from -20ºC to 15ºC because of the Chinook). I’m at that stage in my life where I’m wondering about whether or not I should put down roots in my home town or if I should pack it up and go where the opportunity is – so far, I’m inclined to put down roots here.

  • In the summer of 2008, I went to Eastern Canada, which encompassed Toronto, Niagara Falls, Ottawa, Montreal and Quebec City. Seeing the Canadian side of Niagara Falls was wonderful, and we were able to ride the Maid of the Mist, seen here by winter. In the summer, the mist coming from the falls is most comfortable, and we were treated to the full tour on our visit, encompassing history of the falls, interesting figures and even a trip up the Skylon tower. Come the summer of 2011, I visited the American side of the falls, where we donned ponchos and walked along a walkway close to the American falls.

  • The only thing that surpasses Makoto Shinkai’s rendering of Horseshoe Falls is an actual photograph of the falls. The page quote comes from Canada’s current Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau. Politics is something I tend not to discuss here, since my beliefs are my own. On the whole, I find that Prime Minister Trudeau to have a ways to go in fulfilling his campaign promises, and although he may hold different beliefs than his predecessor, Steven Harper, things have not changed too substantially since Trudeau took office back in 2015.

  • This is the Nathan Phillips Square in Toronto. The largest public square of its kind in Canada, it was completed in 1965, covers 4.85 hectares and is located adjacent to Toronto’s city hall. Like Calgary’s Olympic Plaza, becomes a skating rink in winter. The large TORONTO sign was an addition from the 2015 Pan-American games, and once the events were over, the sign was intended to be moved to another location. However, it’s since remained at the location.

  • The Toronto City Hall is visible in the background here: it’s one of Toronto’s most distinct landmarks, with its twin curved towers and space-age design. I admit that I’ve never been too much of a skater, and ever since an accident where I split my chin open while skating about some years back, I’ve not been too keen in skating. I still have the scars. Back in Warm, Winter Canada, another Canadian skater helps prevent Satsuki from falling. This simple moment captures what people abroad think of Canadians – a polite people. It’s probably not the case, but we do tend to apologise proportionately more than our neighbours down south.

  • If I had to guess, this particular location would be somewhere close to the Ward Island Ferry Dock. The Toronto skyline by night is beautiful, and being Canada’s largest city, is considered to be top-tier with respect to dining, entertainment and culture. I know Toronto best for being the home of Pure Pwnage, a hilarious mockumentary about gamer culture that culminated in last year’s movie. Despite its whacky premise and zany characters, Pure Pwnage provides numerous life lessons within its outlandish narrative, being both fun and somewhat instructive during its run.

  • The last location in Warm, Winter Canada is not given on screen – Yuya and Satsuki are enjoying the Aurora Borealis: one of the greatest misconceptions out there is that the northern lights can only occur by winter, when in fact, they can be visible any time of year depending on solar activity. Having said this, the winter months are better for chasing the northern lights because the hours of darkness are longer: the further up north one goes by summer, the longer daylight hours become.The Yukon, Nunavut and Northwest Territories are the best places in the country for viewing northern lights, as are the northern reaches of British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba.

  • While the technical explanation would be very long and involve math I do not understand, I can offer the layman’s explanation for what causes the aurora borealis. Highly charged, energised particles from solar ejecta interact with atoms in our atmosphere, causing electrons to change orbitals (electrons tend to occupy specific orbitals). When the electrons lose their energy and return from a high energy orbit to a lower one, they emit photons with an energy corresponding with which orbits they return to, in turn affecting the wavelength of the light. In oxygen, green is the most common colour, while nitrogen usually exudes a red light (or more rarely, blue).

  • This was a surprisingly fun post to write for, especially for the fact that I don’t get to talk about places from my homeland very often. What isn’t shown in Warm, Winter Canada is that Real Canadian Winter™ is not all fun and games: snowy days can shut down whole cities, making roads impassible or uncommonly slippery, while heavy storms can knock out the power and plunge neighbourhoods into the winter chill. Wind chill can drop temperatures below -40ºC, and vehicles become reluctant to start if left outside during the night. Having said this, the commercial is a beautiful one that goes quite a way in reminding me that I live in a majestic nation of great beauty.

In the thirty second short, Yuya and Satsuki experience the Canadian winter, but far from being the frigid wastelands that might be expected of a nation who spends more than half the year locked under short days, grey skies and icy roads, they find Canada to be a welcoming, majestic and warm nation whose people and landscapes do much to offset the harshness of a Canadian winter. Produced in a collaboration with the Japanese branch of Destination Canada (a Crown Corporation responsible for promoting tourism in Canada), this short is a part of a contest for Japanese citizens involving a trivia quiz. Participants are eligible for prizes, which include travel guides, Aboriginal crafts and Canadian perfumes, with the grand prize being a trip to Canada. The short itself was produced by the same team who worked on Makoto Shinkai’s Your Name, one of the biggest animated films in Japanese history: animation itself is attributed to Hisayuki Tabata. Its short length belies the beauty that is Canada, and while Shinkai may have a predisposition towards stories of distance and the like, his animation team’s works outside of film retain all of the quality found in his films. With Your Name in the books, I’ve long expressed a wish for Shinkai and his team to work on a story set outside of Japan: the landscapes and stories of Canada, from the Fur Trade to the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway, the discovery of hot springs in what is now Banff National Park and the gold rush in the Yukon are all worth exploring with the visual fidelity that few can match. Of course, such a project is unlikely, but it nonetheless remains impressive that the same team that created Your Name now lend their talents bringing parts of my homeland to life in anime form, vividly capturing the sights and places with the detail and attention befitting some of the nation’s greatest attractions. As for the contest behind this advertisement, I can say that whoever wins the grand prize is in for a fantastic treat when they visit Canada.