Makoto Shinkai’s The Garden of Words is a visually breathtaking anime that somehow reminds me of the audiovisual quality of Disney’s Fantasia, or it’s out-take, the short Claire de Lune. Its when a piece of animation truly seems a work of art, rather than, say, simply being a movie or a product. An astonishing combination of CGI and traditional hand drawn techniques, it really is quite arrestingly beautiful. There is a sense of light and space, the beauty of nature and the passing of time that is quite remarkable here. You could turn down the sound/disable the subtitles and just take the film in as a visual experience independent of the story and be thoroughly enchanted by it.
Takao, a teenager with something of an old soul, dreams of being a shoe-maker and is frustrated by life, something of a misfit at school . He skips school on rainy days to retreat to the local park. There, sheltering under a pergola he chances upon Yukino, a beautiful but troubled young woman drinking beer and eating chocolate. She is escaping her job in just the same way as he is avoiding school. On successive rainy days they meet at the park and a friendship forms between them. Over time we learn more of Takao’s troubled family background and of Yukino’s own problems, as the days slip into weeks and the friendship begins to blossom into something more- something, it turns out, forbidden, as we learn the truth behind Yukino’s pain.
It’s a short movie, running at just 46 minutes, which does make me wonder if it might have been better as a full-length piece. Some may consider that heresy, but I rather think more time for further characterisation would have helped, but that’s likely just me being greedy, as this is one of those films that you really don’t want to end. Some may well find its brisk running time just one more perfect thing about a perfect movie.The story is fine, although I have a few problems with its conclusion,which is the weak link in the entire enterprise, as it felt overly melodramatic. In fairness to the film, this may be due to the fact I watched it with the English dub, and the original Japanese with subtitles may well be a superior experience. Something just felt a little ‘off’ with the central denouement.
Moreover, had this been a live-action film, I would imagine it might have garnered rather more considerable controversy and criticism regards the forbidden nature of the relationship described. Being animation it seems to be protected from that (which raises the question why, exactly?). As the forbidden nature of their relationship (and believe me its not really as shocking as I’m perhaps making out) is a ‘twist’ that might detract from viewers enjoyment of the film, I won’t discuss it here, but some people may have problems it. Did there need to be any romance in the film at all, was friendship not enough? Was the twist even necessary may be the most pertinent question of all, because its such an arresting, beautiful film even without all the dramatics. Its something very special and anyone with any interest in animation really should watch this film.