The Infinite Zenith

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Tag Archives: The Garden of Words

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.

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.

Someone’s Gaze- Reflection on a Makoto Shinkai short film

Someone’s Gaze (Dareka no Manazashi) is a short film that was shown back in February 2013 at the Nomura Real Estate Group’s “Proud Box Kanshasai” home living exposition. Sitting with a relatively short running time of six minutes, Someone’s Gaze focuses on a young girl who has moved out of her parents’ home and has begun living independently. While she and her father both struggle with loneliness, Makoto Shinkai makes certain to remind its viewers that family bonds are eternal and that it is never too late to reform them. Simple, concise and optimistic, Makoto Shinkai’s mastery of the short formatting allows him to tell a clean story about how a father and daughter live their lives; after the girls’ mother leaves to work in a foreign nation, leaving the two behind to fill in the void. The girls’ father buys a cat who keeps her company, and despite her eventually moving out, the father keeps Mii around as a reminder of the times they all had once shared together.

  • The characters don’t have any names, so I’ve only referred to them as mother, daughter and father. Throughout Someone’s Gaze, the mother provides the voice-overs.

  • Twenty screenshots for a six minute feature? Don’t look at me like that! I’ve done this before for Girls und Panzer OVAs before. I promise that I will caption all of the images.

  • Someone’s Gaze is set a short ways into the future, featuring the familiar sights of the contemporary world with the occasional bit of high tech equipment that is reminiscent of that found in Time of Eve. At our current rate of progression, I imagine that these “natural user interfaces”, or NUIs, will become quite prevalent in the near future.

  • Makoto Shinkai’s works look amazing, and surprisingly, have come quite a long way since he produced and animated She and Her Cat. In his older works, the aesthetics are cleaner and simpler, while his films since Five Centimetres per Second tend to give interiors far more detail, resulting in a more homely, cozy environment.

  • This image is a case in point: the daughter receives a telephone call from her father. Note the details in the holographic UI, indicating that it’s a standard call minus the video. It’s subtle details like these that make it so entertaining to watch a Makoto Shinkai film.

  • This is what a picturesque family looks like. I’ve read that families are taking longer to start, in part owing to the economic situation and the gradual shift in priorities for both men and women, with greater emphasis on careers pushing back marriage times and so on.

  • Airports are a places of departure and reunion: either way, much tears are shed at the airport in general, whether it be sadness as one is leaving, or joy at reunion.

  • Mii is a cat bought to assauge the daughter’s loneliness, and the two have much fun together when the daughter is still a child. This short 30-second span reminds me of a scene from Toy Story 2, depicting a girl named Emily and her cowboy doll, Jesse. Despite spending a lot of time together a child, Emily eventually outgrows her toys and Jesse is shelved. Fortunately, Mii is spared this fate, as the daughter’s father takes care of their cat afterwards.

  • Japanese school uniforms are modeled after European Naval uniforms and therefore, called “sailor uniforms”. These were introduced in the 1920s and are typically used by middle schools, whereas high schools have more Western-style uniforms.

  • Like my parents, I still prefer to read the newspaper over using my iPad for news. I included this image as juxtaposition between the new and old.

  • While I’m still a student aspiring for further education yet, either as a MSc or MD, I realise that the transition from one stage to the next is going to be brutally difficult. Of course, higher education is a beacon of hope I have. Once that’s done, well, I can cook and clean just fine, I know how to pay the bills and I’m capable with tools, but I still can’t sew worth a damn. I think I’ve got most of my bases covered.

  • Mii passes on at an old age, signifying the end of one life. Surprised, the daughter immediately goes to see her father.

  • By now, I’ve been driving for around two years. There is a certain degree of joy in driving, and I’ve found the best way to avoid road rage and being discourteous to other drivers is to ensure there’s plenty of time for one to get to their destinations. When I’m happy, I crack bad jokes about bad drivers. When I’m not, I’d wish life were more like FPS.

  • Close inspection of this screenshot finds that the mother is working in Ethiopia, bringing to mind one of the projects my colleague had been working on as part of her honours thesis. Said project was a Global Health initiative in Ethiopia, where she and a team were introducing biochemical wet-lab techniques to the locals so that they could conduct their own research.

  • I suppose I’ll now take a chance to shoot down some existing “reviews” out there, primarily for having no screenshots and for rating this poorly on the basis that “the flow of the story…felt random and too quick to bounce around”, with the film itself having “execution [that was] was only fair”. It’s a six minute short, so things flow in a slightly more hasty manner to fit into that time span. Granted, it is possible to make everything smooth (like in Paperman), but I argue that the execution in Someone’s Gaze isn’t bad and fits nicely altogether.

  • This is an obligatory image of food. I suddenly recall the lamb steak I had on Tuesday and think of how I prefer my steaks to be rare, seared well on the outside and still very pink on the inside.

  • Even after all this time, and all the challenges that the two face, father and daughter enjoy a meal together.

  • It’s taken me around an hour to gather the images, write the two short paragraphs to the review, insert said images into the post and caption all of them.

  • Believe it or not, but I absolutely love small animals like kittens and rabbits. I think this might be one of the few reviews out there with actual screenshots. The last review I read looked like a response for a creative writing class: I don’t particularly like reviews that tell people how they ought to live their lives. My statements won’t do anything of the sort, simply drawing out and summarising the core message in a particular work.

  • Standing in comparison to Makoto Shinkai’s more well known works, Someone’s Gaze ends on a decisively happy note, reminding its viewers that happiness is a cycle, much as life itself, and that its attainment is up to the individual’s initiative.

As is expected of something bearing Makoto Shinkai’s hand, Someone’s Gaze is beautifully animated, set in a world that appears only slightly over the horizon. Despite the advent of larger touch tables and holographic UIs, their world remains familiar. Despite being only six minutes in length, Shinkai weaves a tale of family, and how the most basic of human interactions, the family, is the most significant and meaningful. Despite the challenges the daughter and father face, they nonetheless spend time with one another and gain solace in the fact that regardless of how cold the outside world might be, the family will always be solidly there, dependable and reliable. Someone’s Gaze would show again at the theatrical release of The Garden of Words, reminding me of the Disney short Paperman. Shown right before Wreck-It Ralph, like Someone’s GazePaperman is concise, simple and heartwarming to watch, setting the stage for the featured presentation.

Shinjuku Gyoen: Home of The Garden of Words

It is hardly unexpected that The Garden of Words, Makoto Shinkai’s latest film, has settings inspired by real world locations: the garden featured prominently in the story is Shinjuku Gyoen, a public park  in Shinjuku and Shibuya, Tokyo, Japan. Like its anime counterpart, Shinjuku Garden blends three distinct styles: French Formal, English Landscape and Japanese traditional, into one location. Shinjuku Gyoen is open from 9:00 until 16:30, except on Mondays, when it is closed (save blossom and chrysanthemum seasons; from March to April and in November, the garden is open seven days of the week). Admissions into the park is 200 yen for adults and 50 yen for children. In the images below, the image on top is the anime representation, whereas the real-world equivalent is on the bottom.

The garden is 58.3 hectares in area. It was originally intended for the royalty and was completed in 1906. By 1949, the gardens became open to the public as “National Park Shinjuku Imperial Gardens”. There are more than 20000 trees in the gardens, including some 1500 cherry trees. Had the images’ source not been mentioned, it is highly likely that it would have taken much closer inspection to discern which images are real and which ones are from the anime: the attention to detail and composition is just that impressive, although given that this is a Makoto Shinkai work, such an observation is hardly unexpected.

The Garden of Words Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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