The Nihon Review - Anime Reviews & Editorials

The Garden of Words

Title: The Garden of Words aka Kotonoha no Niwa
Genre: Drama/Romance
Companies: CoMix Wave Films
Format: Movie; 46 minutes
Dates: 28 Apr 2013

Synopsis: On a rainy morning in Shinjuku, Akizuki Takao ought to be in school. But that’s not where he belongs. Skipping class for some reflection in the park, he encounters a woman named Yukino Yukari who has taken up day drinking over morning working. Finding a kindred spirit in one another, the two spend each morning of the rainy season together; Takao opening up for once in his life, while Yukino remains mysteriously blank. All things must pass, however, and with spring on the way, their friendship faces an abrupt end. Or perhaps an abrupt beginning.

The Highlights
Animation: Shinkai Makoto only continues to up his game.
Leads: Most interesting at their vaguest, though compelling in all cases.
Romantic angle: Doesn’t sensationalize it. Doesn’t muse over it. Just lets it out for all to see.
Music: Melancholic.
Palette: This movie IS the color green.

Shinkai Makoto doesn’t so much tell stories as he paints portraits in motion. With just the background details, he can present a character’s entire arc−no one can doubt the man’s craft. Neither can it be doubted that his films having repeating themes, namely those regarding separation. Voices of a Distant Star and 5 Centimeters per Second pretty much drive home the theme. Subsequently The Garden of Words continues to drive that point so deep into the ground that by this point he has reached the mantle. But so long as he is exploring familiar territory, he manages to combine his tried and true narrative minimalism with visual maximalism in order to create one striking and prolonged emotional moment.

At its core, The Garden of Words is about the coming together of two self-isolating individuals, who themselves are separated by age. As with other Shinkai works, the plot is skeletal, opting for a more emotional exploration of the characters and subject matter. Little beyond the bare necessities is told of the two leads, and for the better. While there are details to their lives, all that is needed to know is that coincidence has brought together Yukino and Takao as the struggle over two very different dilemmas. The romantic element is ever present, though understated, implying more than stating the elephant in the room regarding age. Explicit exploration is hardly warranted as the purpose here is to strike an empathetic chord, not to philosophize over complex social issues. The effectiveness here lies in the vagueness. The allure of Yukino in particular, wanes by the halfway point, rather proportional to the amount of backstory she receives. As the plot becomes less abstract and more concrete, so does arise an off-putting air of melodrama, with typical anime histrionics ensuing by the climax. In spite of this, the movie’s visual and musical accompaniment carries enough depth to keep the drama engaging rather than grating. 

Possibly more than any other director can Shinkai present a narrative through animation alone. The cold inhumanness of  Tokyo is apparent in the passing of a train where the minuscule rustling of leaves can spark peace and intimacy. The precise blend of detail and exaggeration makes even the falling of a single rain droplet a moment unto itself. He can match the likes of Oshii Mamoru in encapsulating boundless meaning in a single frame. He can even go further by embodying it all in a single color. Fitting to the title, the color scheme of The Garden of Words is green, both contrasting with the muted and impassive grays of Shinjuku, while being internally intimate and inclusive through its innumerable shades and hues. A color with a quantifiably calming effect on mood, it puts the audience in the same state of mind as the two leads. Within this scheme, embodying the natural color differences of nature, can two isolated souls find peace together where there once was none.

The Garden of Words is the kind of anime that has grasped the difference between good animation and simply being well animated. Shinkai’s artwork takes the mundane and make it more real than what’s outside one’s window. The artwork likewise manages to take a simple chance encounter and turn it into something remarkable. Effort is apparent in every frame yet feels effortless nonetheless. To call this another victory for Shinkai would be redundant at this point. The relationship may be passing, and the movie under an hour. Neither of their power, however, can be measured in time.

The Rating: 8

Reviewed by: Kavik Ryx

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