With Reel Anime 2013 having started in states across Australia beginning today, I have taken this opportunity to rewatch the film and produce this slightly enhanced review of it – which should tide over until the English dubbed release assumingly sometime next year. Coming in at a mere 46 minutes, The Garden of Words is one of Makoto Shinkai’s shorter theatrical releases (In comparison to Children Who Chase Lost Voices from Deep Below which came in at 116 minutes) however still packed in an emotional punch and plenty of “scenery porn” which he as a director has been known for.
So if you are wondering if The Garden of Words is worth taking the time out of your schedule to take out… or if it will be a boring session before / after the screening of Ghost in the Shell: Arise for which both take part in the same double-feature sessions, read on and you may be pleasantly surprised.
The storyline follows a young student by the name of Takao, whom has a particular interest in shoes and particularly on rainy days likes to skip school and in turn spends those mornings in a Japanese-style garden. One day he comes across another mysterious older woman, Yukino, who begins to join him on these rainy mornings. As the rainy season continues, they begin to meet up with each other day after day, building their relationship with each other. But as soon as the rainy season ends their lives begin to go back to normal… where they uncover that they are not necessarily so far apart. Compared to Makoto Shinkai’s other recent work Children Who Chase Lost Voices from Deep Below they are stark in contrast – with Lost Voices involving a complex journey throughout Agartha to revive people the main characters lost – while The Garden of Words is a simple but immersive love story between a boy and an older woman.
One of my initial concerns with this film was the length, which coming in at only 46 minutes was considerably short from his usual hour to an hour and a half long masterpieces he usually presents. I will admit that I would have liked to have seen the direction they could have taken the film at a longer length, especially in terms of the sub-characters that only contributed to the backstory and setting. However, I think for the storyline that was delivered, such a short length allowed the story to not be hindered by anything that took away too greatly from the main storyline and kept the focus on Takao and Yukino. While there were a few references to Japanese culture and other aspects that may not be as well known to the international audience, the film isn’t too dialogue heavy and uses emotions / symbolism /scenery as much as the conversations to convey meaning and expression. The film also flows well, and switches between the viewpoints of the main characters harmoniously.
The Garden of Words may not be the best Makoto Shinkai anime film storyline-wise and does have a few spaced out issues (Such as some characters being introduced with limited if any development and a few timing issues here and there), but it still makes for an interesting watch that would be a great addition to your must see list at this years Reel Anime 2013 – and hey, as a double feature with Ghost in the Shell: Arise, you get two films for your buck.
When you watch any of Makoto Shinkai’s work in the last decade at least (Even his minori visual novel opening sequences), you go into it expecting beautiful environments bordering on “scenery porn”, and The Garden of Words is by no means an exception. As I feel with Children Who Chase Lost Voices from Deep Below, I am left saddened that I will most probably not have the opportunity to view this film on the big screen again, as it allowed every centimeter of the scenery to be carefully examined and appreciated. The environment designs were once again up to par with his other work, and near the end of the film there is a very impressively animated scene in the Japanese-style garden – but overall you should expect plenty of scenes with just scenery and honestly they would most probably be worthwhile being in the cinema for alone.
Character designs may be simpler and less impressive than the environment designs, and featured a similar concept to the designs used in 5 Centimetres Per Second. However I think while simpler, they harmonize with the scenery very well and don’t look out of place.
Music / Voice Acting
The music featured in the film consisted of more softer and reserved tracks which complemented the theme of the film well, and also provided a handful of lyrical tracks which when used were also pleasurable to listen to.
While an English dub of this film has already been produced by North American anime publisher Sentai Filmworks (and has been available for purchase internationally for two months now), Madman Entertainment have decided to screen it with the original Japanese dub. If you were at the Gold Coast Film Festival world premiere, this screening might not offer a completely different experience. That being said, the Japanese dub is of a high quality, and the voice cast are evidently no strangers to voice acting with a diverse range of voices between them.
Miyu Irino (Whom has played roles such as Jinta in Anohana and Makoto in Ground Control to Psychoelectric Girl) whom voices Takao and Kana Hanazawa (Kanade in Angel Beats, Black Rock Shooter in Black Rock Shooter and Ruri in Oreimo) both suit their roles very well, and show their experience in portraying the emotion and underlying personalities well.
Final Words on The Garden of Words
For those who were introduced to Makoto Shinkai’s work during the Reel Anime 2012 (or 2011 GCFF) screening of Children Who Chase Lost Voices, this title is considerably different. However the differences had little impact on the experience for myself, and proved to be a solid harmony of storyline and visuals.
Of course you could also just go into the film for the visuals… Heck, if there were any director out there who could produce an enjoyable film without a storyline and nothing but an hour of animated scenery… it would be Makoto Shinkai.
Makoto Shinkai's usual "scenery porn" spread throughout the film. A focus on just the two main characters with very little distraction from other characters.
Despite having had its world premiere in Australia, this title might have fared better as a physical release rather than as part of a double-feature screening.