Stephen reviews: Garden of Words (2013)

KRp4l9rGarden of Words [言の葉の庭 Kotonoha no Niwa] (2013)

Starring Miyu Irino, Kana Hanazawa, Fumi Hirano, Takeshi Maeda, Yuka Terasaki, Takanori Hoshino, Suguru Inoue, Megumi Han, Mikako Komatsu, Yuki Hayashi

Directed by Makoto Shinkai

After being disappointed by Children Who Chase Lost Voices, I was hopeful that Shinkai would return to the style he has been so good at before. With Garden of Words he did exactly that, so I am thankful, but he went back to a 5CM Per Second style of realistic romance. I really do wish he would go back to the intriguing science fiction premises that wound through his earlier films. Without that speculative side, Garden of Words becomes just another bittersweet tale of impossible love, which is what all of his films center around. This isn’t really a bad thing; it’s just that I prefer to have something beyond a simple romance story.

The film centers around a high school boy who likes the rain, and ditches class every time it rains. He hangs out in a park with a covered bench and enjoys the weather with a sketchbook in hand. His career goal is to become a women’s shoe designer. Now that may be odd, but at least he’s got dreams, right? One day he encounters an older woman also ditching work who seems to like the combination of beer and chocolate. They continue meeting every time it rains, and gradually grow closer to each other.

gallery_poster003It plays out in a distinctly Japanese manner. The film is very reserved and slow in its buildup, and I can easily see a lot of western viewers calling it boring. It isn’t until the second half that we start finding out more about the mysterious woman, and her reasons for liking beer and chocolate. But even then, we’re left with more questions than answers. And this is really my only major gripe with the film. Even by the end, I didn’t really feel like I knew much about her, and rather than helping understand anything, her past just made her more confusing. I suppose I may have just missed some subtle cue that would have made sense out of it all, and I certainly wouldn’t rule that out in a film like this. But I can only call it like I see it, as somewhat incomplete.

You might wonder just how I made it through the film at all, and while I must admit to some boredom through the first half, I didn’t mind it all that much. Blame it on my overexposure to anime enuring me to that Japanese flavor of storytelling. But what may be more at work was the animation. Comix Wave has proven itself to be one of the best animation studios out there. I still have my issues with the use of CG in these films, and Ghibli certainly has the edge on primary animation, but when it comes to background art no one can do it better than Makoto Shinkai. Those backgrounds are every bit as luscious and vibrant as ever, and I could easily sit in awe of them for an hour or more.

I hate to say that the background art is the sole point of the film, but it is certainly the star of the show. What’s more, Shinkai knows how to not only make it look gorgeous, but to also put it front and center where it can do the most good for the film. And while the romance angle isn’t exactly my cup of tea, those who are romance fans may find a lot more to like here than I did.

5 comments to Stephen reviews: Garden of Words (2013)

  • Sounds like something I might like, considering my love of both the rain and Japanese storytelling. Also, I watched the trailer and I think my eyes melted from sheer amazement at how awesome everything looked. Shinkai seems to be taking animation to a whole new level. It’s very impressive.

  • Stephen

    Shinkai is definitely doing things that I’ve never seen in animation before, or at least not done well before. And every film looks better than the last. I hesitate to say that this is his best yet, but only because I never saw 5CM in full HD, so I don’t feel like I’m giving it a fair comparison. Even if he is just rehashing the same premise every time, I don’t really care. They look so good I’ll go on that trip every time.

    • Yeah, that’s what I was thinking watching the trailer, “Has anyone ever done this is animation, ever?” Really impressive stuff. And whether or not the specific things have been done or not before, I feel like what I saw in the trailer was so well-done that it makes you feel like it’s never been done, even for things that have become mundane. I actually had to stop the trailer to let my mind explode a bit. It really blew me away.

      If this had a sci-fi element like you said all his early stuff does, goddamn. That might actually be too much for me to handle.

  • Bobby

    What made Shinkai’s sci-fi work standout, storywise, is what unites all his films thematicly- they are love stories. The sci-fi trappings are interesting sure, but the mechs or the tower were never the focus of his stories. Also, I literally just bought this earlier today. Awesome!

    • Stephen

      I can see what you’re getting at, but I have to disagree a bit. Without the long distance communication, Voices of a distant Star wouldn’t have existed. Without that weird tower, Place Promised in our Early Days wouldn’t have existed. The characters would have simply gown up together and there would be no story to tell. It would simply be boy meets girl and lives happily ever after. So I think that sci-fi aspect was vital to those stories. All of the conflict in them revolves around the technology and how the characters deal with it.

      The best sci-fi always delves into how science affects human lives. Without that, any sci-fi tale would be kinda boring. That’s actually true of any story, not just sci-fi. We are human being, therefore we relate best to stories about humans. Once you move to a perspective so alien that we cannot identify with it, the story starts to fall apart. The job of science fiction is to show how humans interact with technology, and that’s exactly what happened in Shinkai’s earlier films.

      This is definitely an awesome film to own. Now if only they would put Place Promised and 5CM out on blu-ray I’d be happy.

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