The Garden of Words Blu-ray Review
In the bustling and socially demanding city of Tokyo two people are finding it hard to advance forward in life. 15 year old Akizuki Takao is struggling at school and has family issues. 27 year old Yukino Yukari suffers from a traumatic experience and has lost the confidence needed to show up to work. The two meet in a garden in Shibuya on a rainy day and unexpectedly find solace in each other’s company despite being complete strangers. They start meeting regularly in that garden on rainy days, slowly building their trust in each other. Out in the world they have lost their footing. But in their private garden space they start exchanging the words they desperately need to say in order to face their realities.
The Garden of Words is not a story about two people falling in love. It is the lovely story of two people which fell off what is considered the “normative” Japanese social spectrum and stumbled upon each other. It is a short movie, but manages to cover a lot of cultural ground. And it does so gracefully and thoughtfully. However, you might find it hard at first to analyze things like social and cultural themes because you’ll inevitably be distracted by Garden of Words’ gorgeous art. All the locations have minute details – from the ripples on the garden water to the specs of dust in one’s apartment. And it all look vivid and crisp. Furthermore, Makoto Shinkai’s clever use of focus (or lack thereof) enhances the storytelling element of the visuals in affective ways. The soundtrack is poignant and touching, as if to remind us just how delicate Akizuki and Yukino’s souls are in their current state. The story itself is simple but layered with symbolism, such as the frequent mentioning and showing of feet and footwear, which symbolize advancing forward in life or being unable to do so.
Akizuki is only 15 but is very serious for his age. Yukino is the older yet somewhat childish one. The two’s charming interactions are where the heart of this movie lies. Things get murkier when other characters are shown. Akizuki’s family is not portrayed in a realistic manner. His mother is irresponsible to the point she neglects her children completely. His older brother criticizes their mother only to follow in her footsteps almost immediately. Poor Akizuki is quite literally left to raise, feed and provide for himself. The situation in itself is not farfetched, but Akizuki’s handling of the situation certainly is. No normal 15 year old can study, cook and pay his own tuition fees as flawlessly as he does. Yukino’s character is handled better. Unlike Akizuki she has an adequately uneven personality. She is clumsy and often criticizes herself. Furthermore she has been mistreated by others in the past but is no an angel herself.
The movie comes with both a Japanese and an English dub. The English dub is consistently bad. Some Japanese sentences are translated literally, leading the English dialog to sound unnatural. The voice actor for Akizuki is outright amateurish and sometimes fails to deliver sentences outright. In contrary the Japanese track, specifically in concern to Akizuki’s inner monologues, is mesmerizing. The Garden of Words should definitely be watched in its original language. There are also a Japanese commentary track (featuring Makoto Shinkai himself) and an English commentary track. Other special features include storyboards, production stills and a video that showcases Shinkai’s previous works.
The Garden of Words is only 46 minutes long and if you expect it to reveal a grand story in its entirety you will be sorely disappointed. What it does offer is a glimpse into a period of hardship and the attempts of both main characters to overcome it; Both alone and somewhat awkwardly together. The ending feels a bit rushed, and while the movie arguably succeeds in what it set out to do a more generously laid out ending would have made the Garden of Words even more memorable.