Written, directed and edited by Makoto Shinkai (of “Your Name” fame) The Garden of Words (2013) follows Takao Akizuki. A fifteen year old student and an aspiring shoemaker who skips his morning classes so he can sketch shoes in the Shinjuku Gyoen National Park. It is there where he meets the mysterious twenty-seven year old Yukari and so the two begin a relationship where, on rainy mornings Takao skips his first period of school and Yukari skips work and the two meet on the same canopy covered benches in the park.
The Garden of Words doesn’t have a strong story as it is mostly a handful of scenes tied together with short montages so when it comes to story there really isn’t much of one, we learn all we need to know about the characters through exposition dialogue but mostly by what we see: Yukari is always drinking alcohol in the morning, Takao is always drawing and making shoes etc.
I have two main problems with The Garden of Words; the dubbing and Takao and Yukari’s relationship.
I watched the English language dub which stars Blake Shepard as Takao and Maggie Flecknoe as Yukari, as that was the only available version I could get my hands on, and I have to say that the English dub was very dry. All of the voice actors sounded tired, making their performances come across as lifeless and dull especially Shepard’s performance as Takao. We follow the story mainly through Takao’s perspective and the film is narrated by him, so listening to his monotonous voice made me want to just go back to the silent scenes, and this is coming from someone who loves dialogue heavy movies.
Naturally I should speak about Takao and Yukari’s relationship since Takao is a fifteen-year-old, which is above the age of consent in Japan, and Yukari is twenty-seven. At first due to the character designs I thought Yukari was the same age as Takao, the only distinguishing part of her design that made her look slightly older was her clothes. They do share some scenes which does cross into romance territory in two scenes in particular. The first being when Takao is designing a pair of shoes and uses Yukari’s feet as reference, and the second when Takao admits his love for Yukari but it doesn’t go past that since the film spends more time on them meeting in the morning and chatting. I was happy about this since I disliked the romance angle the film skewed to at times.
The music in the film was okay; I didn’t hate it but I didn’t love it either. It was performed on a piano and the melody seemed very “anime typical”.
The thing I want to talk most about in regards to The Garden of Words is the animation! The film is such a visual treat and almost every single scene is a feast for the eyes.
The art style takes traditional hand-drawn animation, CGI animation and rotoscoping and puts them together into one gorgeous blend of eye-popping animated heaven. The attention to detail is so outstanding I wish the short film was longer just so I could continue to stare in awe at beauty of the Shinjuku Gyoen National Park.
Almost every scene from the park to the apartment building to the cityscape scenes are poster shots that I wanted to print out and frame. I was upset that we didn’t get to see more of the National Park, even if it would be unnecessary to the plot, because those scenes were so pretty to watch especially during the rain segments. The drawings of food will make you hungry and the incredibly detailed raindrops will make you want to take a walk through your nearest park in the rain.
It is truly movies like The Garden of Words that make me grateful that Japan are keeping traditional animation alive while western companies continue to quickly churn out CGI-animated movies. Despite the relationship which made me really cringe right at the end, I did enjoy The Garden of Words but mostly for the animation style. If you took that away, I probably would not have cared for the film.
Due to its short forty-six minute runtime it makes for an easy watch but if you are going to watch it then you should watch the subtitled version with the original Japanese voice cast.
Author: Jordan Simmons
Editor: Precious Mayowa Agbabiaka