“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.
- Thus, Yukari is back to doing what she does best, teaching Japanese literature in Shikoku. Although separated, both Yukari and Takao often think of one another. One of the things that ended up coming out of the Great Flood of 2013 for me was that I ended up becoming a bit of a self-styled poutine connoisseur. After the feelings of emptiness and loneliness I felt that summer, I subsequently resolved to find something to do outside the realm of my comfort zone and indulge in some exploration without breaking the bank. Since this precluded travelling to Japan at the time, I figured that I would learn to appreciate poutine, a Canadian dish. Five years later, I’ve tried a variety of different poutines and have even driven three-quarters of an hour out into the mountains for the singular purpose of eating at a well-known poutine place. Among the poutines I’ve enjoyed since then include a fried chicken poutine topped with Southern-style gravy and hot sauce, a ginger beef poutine with Chinese-style sweet sauce, a perogie poutine with bacon and sausage, a pulled pork and fried onion poutine, a Philadelphia cheese-steak poutine, a breakfast poutine with veal, sausage and fried egg and the legendary all-meat poutine of the Calgary Stampede, amongst others. With this number under my belt, I think I know what I’m talking about when it comes to poutine.
- 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.