The Garden of Words (Koto no ha no niwa)
Written and Directed by Makoto Shinkai
Voice work by Miyu Irino and Kana Hanazawa
Review by Jordan
A faint clap of thunder. Clouded skies. Perhaps rain will come. If so, will you stay here with me?
Nestled between the fantastical Children Who Chase Lost Voices and innovative Your Name, The Garden of Words is a detour through the Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden during the rainy season that allows Makoto Shinkai the opportunity to ponder the life-changing nature of human connection outside of love.
This wonderfully animated film captures the unlikely, auspicious friendship between a 15 year-old boy and 27 year-old woman, as on rainy mornings and without planning they meet and find solace in an unspoken relationship. Shyly, Takao sketches designs of shoes that he wishes to one day make, as Yukino reads literature while eating chocolate and drinking alcohol; the mysteries they present to each other and the effect the unravelling of them will have reaching far deeper than they could’ve ever known.
To me she represents nothing less than the very secrets of the world.
When the sun commands the sky, Takao wishes innocently for the rain, so that he might again have reason to take shelter in the Garden. In the rain, growth is born and haze, albeit reluctantly, is washed away.
Adept at interposing elements of nature between characters and their ambitions, Shinkai uses the expressive Gyoen Garden to help convey the dramatic feelings of two lives drawn together at a moment in time. At times his story does veer into improbable territory, holding it back from having the emotional punch we’ve come to anticipate and becoming particularly tangled as it nears its conclusion, but it’s refreshing to witness a tale that presents the significance of connecting with others and how even chance encounters with strangers can shape our thoughts and feelings.
The Garden of Words isn’t a love story, but there is romanticism in the overarching theme of picking yourself up and mastering the ability to walk. Takao and Yukino each know the challenges awaiting them outside of their sanctuary, and once they confront them they’ll draw strength from the time they spent challenging each other; through smiles, conversation and honesty the fears that lead them to the vine-covered gazebo and away from the faces and pressures of Shinjuku laid bare.