The Garden of Words is a short movie about two people who find an escape from a world they don’t feel a part of. Our two characters skip out on school and work before finding each other by chance in a public garden on a rainy morning. We are along for the ride as these two meet over and over on rainy mornings, tackling their internal issues while completely avoiding all of the other external conundrums in their lives.
Unlike most of my reviews, this one contains spoilers. I apologize, but this movie is forty-five minutes long so talking about what happens without spoiling is like talking about a series without spoiling anything from the first episode.
For those who don’t want spoilers, skip to the end and read the conclusion.
Takao Akizuki is a high school boy whose dream is to design shoes. Akizuki’s home life is falling apart with his mother dating younger men and his brother leaving to be with his girlfriend. The family that seems to have once supported him is now prioritizing their own needs. He is a bit of an odd character because while he claims to feel on the outside of society, we learn that he has friends later in the movie. The only reason I can find for his disconnect from school besides his home life is his infatuation with shoes. I gather that going into a trade such as shoemaking is not exactly a sexy pursuit and perhaps should be left to elves or other assorted tiny people. There are a couple lines in the movie where Akizuki’s brother expresses doubt about this passion — this was meant to show how little people believe in him. While not exactly being pushed to the fringe by others, the lack of support seems to be the root of his failure to connect. Also, Akizuki may or may not have a foot fetish.
Yukari Yukino is a twenty-nine-year-old woman with an unhealthy habit of eating chocolate and drinking beer… all the time. Over the course of the show, it becomes clear that Yukino is skipping out on her job. In fact, she is skipping out on being a teacher at Akizuki’s school. Yukino fell victim to the dreaded wrath of the high school girl. A boy fell in love with her and broke up with the wrong girl, the girl then got all her friends to make Yukino’s life hell. She fell into a depression or severe anxiety that made it hard for her to even get out of bed in the morning. She lost her ability to taste anything other than chocolate and beer, and was practicing walking from her apartment to the garden. Overall, she does not give much of herself to the viewer. Her issues are personal and she seems to prefer to keep them that way. I wanted the slow burn of the pain of her characters to pay off. Yukino hides so much of herself only to have an outburst at the end. What is the real Yukino like? The viewer never really gets to know.
Forty minutes is not a lot of time for development. For as deep seeded as the issues that our characters face are, the short amount of time that it takes them to believe in themselves feels a bit forced. When it comes to them opening up, in what is largely an emotional movie, we really don’t see much of it. Exactly as you could have expected, a show involving the emotional development of characters that don’t share much of themselves with the viewers leaves the characters… underdeveloped.
The Garden of Words had me feeling two ways: awestruck and disgusted. The animation in the movie is enough reason to be in constant awe and I felt this way most of the movie. The finer details were amazing, but only carry the emotion so far. This will be discussed more in the animation section. What really drags the emotion down is the weird, slightly pedophelic relationship between Yukino and Akizuki, as well as Akizuki’s foot fetish, which isn’t really my thing.
Let’s be honest. It makes sense that Akizuki would be at least interested in feet given he has to for his job. The most awkward scene had to have been when Akizuki finally said the pair of shoes he was making was for Yukino. Big gasp moment that no one saw coming. The next thing that happens is he has to measure her feet. Makes sense, for sure. This guy pokes her toes for no reason and awkwardly caresses the feet of a woman twice his age. I’m down for a lot of tropes, but for some reason I rank foot fetishes below tentacles. Believe me, that’s saying something.
We also can’t ignore how this guy thought that he could just declare his love for a woman in her late twenties while he is at oldest sixteen. Little weird, my guy. On my first take, I was annoyed with Yukino too. I was thinking, “What the heck is she doing rejecting him and then hugging him. That sends major mixed messages.” On my second take, I think she handled it about as well as she could. She is a broken person who had someone help her recover from the worst place in her life. She rejects him as best as she can but lets him know how much it meant to her. I am somewhere in between letting her off and labeling her as an enabler. Suspect at best, intentional at worst. Regardless of the decision, the relationship is intriguing and it was something I enjoyed debating with my friends. Can age gaps that large result in healthy relationships? Does her being a teacher really invalidate the relationship? Interesting thought food.
Nuance is rare in anime. Most things are simplified and tropes are rampant. It was nice to see the effects of disenfranchisement, both to adults and to children. Showing the impact that bullying has on someone is a tone attuned departure from characters just being angry and beating their bully’s ass later when they get super powers, which is a tone deaf approach.
You have heard me say that parents are absent in anime before, but that has real effects. Not every kid can turn out well when not only their dad goes out to get milk and never comes back, but their mom does too. Here, we actually get to see the pain that comes from absent parents who aren’t used as plot points.
Sadly, I think the nuanced approach to how the characters show their pain is the only interesting idea in the show. The ideas felt refined and tasteful, but ultimately far too underutilized. It was a bit like going to a fancy restaurant. You get a tiny meal that tastes awesome. You finish it, then you ask if there was more of it coming. The waiter looks at you like you should know the food that came on a side plate was the whole meal. My bad, I guess.
Half the length of a normal movie AND an emotional drama. The undertaking of pacing under these conditions is a feat alone. I am a huge fan of short form content, especially when the content is deeper and still tackles a story. Two critiques of the show: I want to see more of the issues that caused the pain and I think the ending was rushed just a bit. Those issues were closely tied to the abbreviated length.
Is the general anime community smart? Eh, debatable. Do the writers give the viewer a lot of credit here? For sure. Cutting out the visual element of what caused our characters pain is the only way they could trim the film down. They are betting on their ability to tell a story without having to show it to you. They are trying to invoke emotion without you being a witness. I think that the show would have benefited from giving us these visuals, but it was a style choice.
I won’t talk too much about the ending because I want you to have a surprise. But overall, the ending feels rushed because emotional issues aren’t solved in that amount of time. We never really get to see how Yukino’s issues are resolved or even what life looks like for her. Half of our cast is an unknown at the end and that feels unideal.
Overall, more unfavorable than favorable. I do however, respect the attempt at creating a deep story in a short amount of time.
Welcome to Marshal’s biased take on animation. First I gave you spoilers, now I get to tell you why this animation is the expectation for a four point score. This movie is directed by the same person as Your Name, Weathering with You, and 5 Centimeters Per Second. While this might not mean anything to you, these movies are some of the most beautiful and detailed animations I have ever experienced. It’s not only the artwork that really brings the show to life, but the framing. You know the details are important because they get highlighted.
I picked an essentially random point in the show to illustrate this. Let me set the scene.
We see a zoomed in shot of a phone as it buzzes and a hand reaches to turn it off. We see morning light enter the room through grey skies and rain as Akizuki pushes the sheets off of him. He smiles. He is now walking down the road with raindrops running down his transparent umbrella. We cut to his moccasins approaching us, water sticking to the ground as he steps closer. The pavement is coated and drops ping rings around his shoes.
Part of animation is telling a story that can be shown in more than one way and differently than the dialog. We could have just been given shots of him from middle-distance as he wakes up, walks to the garden, and meets Yukino. But shots such as the phone scene spice up the animation, give us information in less obvious ways, and show the attention to detail that the animators have about understanding what life in general is like.
Contrary to popular belief, salvation is in the detail. We aren’t given a world. We are given an escape and our escape has purpose. It would not be an escape if we traveled with our characters, so instead we were given detail. Most of the movie took place in the gazebo in a Japanese park. From the leaf-filled branches touching the water, to the droplets falling down the side of the gazebo, the world feels full. Our character’s world is small and secluded, and because of this, so is ours. There is no shame in a small world when it feels full, detailed, and purposeful.
This show sounds as good as it looks. Most of the animation is accompanied by hypnotizing piano pieces. I got so engrossed in the music that I stopped reading subtitles. I had to rewind several times in order to make sure I got all the dialog. The moment the music stopped, I understood how important it truly was. A scene near the end, arguably the most emotional moment, cut the music and I felt like something had been taken from me. At the point that a piano can make you feel that something has been taken from you and change your emotions, the music has surpassed expectations.
|Category||Points Given||Points Possible|
|I am interested in the characters in the story||3||6|
|I liked the emotion the story made me feel||2||6|
|The story brings up interesting ideas||2||6|
|I felt the pacing of the show was appropriate||2||4|
|The animation in the show is beautiful||4||4|
|I am interested in the world that the story takes place in||3||3|
|I felt that the music added to the story in a meaningful way||3||3|
The movie is a visual and auditory masterpiece. I think the movie should be something you watch if you are going to watch good anime, but should not be near the top of what you NEED to watch. If you love diving into audio/visual masterpieces, this movie is for you. You can certainly get a poster or canvas art made out of this film. If you love the stories, the build up, and the development then you can take a pass on this one.