Sunday, January 14, 2018

REVIEW: The Garden of Words (anime movie), on Blu-ray

The Garden of Words is a short movie, only 46 minutes long. It’s licensed by Sentai Filmworks. If I had to pick a genre for it, I’d say maybe drama.

This review includes slight spoilers.


Takao is a 15-year-old high school student with a dream: he wants to become a shoe designer. His unsettled family life and flighty and immature mother forced him to grow up pretty quickly, so he knows he’s going to have to accomplish his dream all on his own, somehow scraping together the money for proper training himself. In the meantime, he allows himself to skip school and go to a quiet garden and sketch shoe designs on rainy mornings but forces himself to go to school at all other times.

One rainy morning he meets Yukino, an elegant-looking woman with nice shoes, at his usual sketching spot. Just like he skips school to sketch, Yukino skips work to drink beer and eat chocolate. The two strike up a quiet friendship and, despite the difference in their ages, Takao finds himself starting to fall for Yukino.

I vaguely recall watching a beautiful but vague trailer for this movie. I got the impression that it was a romance starring an older woman and a younger man - I assumed the guy was maybe in his early 20s and the woman in her 30s. If I were better at “reading” Japanese clothing, I’d probably have figured out that the guy was actually a high school student.

That, to be honest, was my biggest problem with this movie: the fact that Takao was only 15 and Yukino was 27. It helped, a little, that the movie did not pair Takao and Yukino up in the end. However, the way everything was filmed made me slightly uncomfortable, and I wasn’t able to pinpoint exactly why until after I watched the “interviews” portion of extras.

Although viewers were given a peek into both Takao and Yukino’s thoughts, everything was designed with Takao’s perspective in mind. Yukino’s habit of skipping work to drink beer and eat chocolate was the only thing about her that came across as even vaguely imperfect. Everything else about her was alluring and elegant: the way she spoke, the way she held herself, and even her shoes and the way she wore them. The audience had to believe that Takao would fall for her even though, in their early meetings, she seemed potentially as flighty and immature as his mother. Or maybe that slight similarity to his mother was part of her allure.

Yukino talked with Takao on rainy mornings and let him sketch her without commenting on it, but I don’t think she was purposely seducing him, especially considering what the second half of the movie revealed about her circumstances. That said, because of the focus on Takao’s perspective, she came across as somewhat uncomfortably seductive in the first half of the movie.

Story-wise, The Garden of Words didn’t really work well for me. I loved how quiet and character-focused it was, but the edge of romance between between a 15-year-old and an adult woman put me off of something I might otherwise have adored. Also, the revelations in the second half left me with all kinds of questions. If others had thought that the accusations were baseless (and that seemed to be the case, considering that Yukino was back at work by the end), why did no one step in and deal with the situation? Yukino was left looking like a bullied child.

The one thing about this movie that really worked for me was its visuals. This movie has some of the most gorgeous animated rain I’ve seen in a long time, and the way seasons were depicted was breathtaking and beautiful. The whole thing was a treat for the eyes.

All in all, this was definitely worth watching. Even though I was iffy about the setup and way things developed, it featured some very complex and thought-provoking characterization, and the visuals were top-notch. I’m hopeful that Makoto Shinkai’s Your Name, which I recently picked up, will work better for me.

  • Japanese Commentary - This is available in the "language selection" part of the disc. I didn't listen to it.
  • English Commentary - This is available in the "language selection" part of the disc. I didn't listen to it.
  • Interviews - This was about an hour long, longer than the movie itself. It featured interviews with Makoto Shinkai, Miyu Irino (Takao), and Kana Hanazawa (Yukino). There might have been a bit more, but I can't remember. At any rate, it was better and more informative than interviews that are just "this is the best project I've worked on and I hope you enjoy it."
  • Storyboards - I think this might be the entire movie in storyboard form. I didn't watch more than a couple minutes.
  • English Production Stills - Photographs of the actors in the recording booth, along with cheesy captions. They put rocks on the floor with words written on them that related to the movie in some way, and they put green glass pebbles and things on the wall of the recording booth, all to get the actors in the right mood.
  • Garden of Words Japanese Trailer
  • The Works of Makoto Shinkai - I think this might have been trailers of each of Shinkai's works, although it wasn't always good about clearly stating which work was being shown. Based on what I saw, I think I'm probably fine with just having Your Name in my collection. None of the other movies immediately appealed to me, not even 5 Centimeters per Second, which I'd been vaguely interested in for a while.

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