The film titled ‘Garden of Words’ (Japanese title ‘koto no ha no niwa’) is a story of two unusual and lonely people trying to help each other. This film is a very subtle love story between a 15 year old boy and a 27 year old woman against a japanese background. Filmmaker Makoto Shinkai uses the age difference between the protagonists to signify how people from different ages and times mature at different paces. He humanizes every bit of the characters to make it seem like a very usual phenomenon. The Garden of Words additionally outlines how humans don't develop as straightly or exquisitely as we regularly expect them to.
The protagonists of the film are very lonesome. Takao Akizuki, the 15 year old boy is an aspiring shoe maker. This sort of a career option is obviously understood by none and thus is separated even from his family due to this. He seems to be a very matured person at such an age taking care of his family and is emotionally capable. He unlike the rest of the japanese population has perhaps little to say about the age gap between his parents and is thus a very modernly thinking boy. This can be interpreted by the fact that he has nothing to say about his mother dating a younger boy, whereas his brother stands to be against it. On the other hand, the female protagonist Yukino Yukino, is a 27 year old school teacher. She is boycotted by some people from the school and is thus very hesitant to go. She does not follow the social norms and is seeing bunking work and drinking beer in the garden. It is a japanese filmmaker portraying a japanese way of living. He underlines how the orthodox japanese culture works and its orthodox mentality.
Shoes form an important part of the storyline. Shoes are used as a metaphor for the journey called life. Shoes binds them both together since he is a shoemaker and she needs a certain direction in life. The first time these two meet is established by a very low angle shot of the shoes and not the people. He, as a metaphor, becomes a guiding force for her, throughout her journey towards maturity.
This can be explained by the fact that in the very last scene, he puts down the shoes that he has made for her to signify that he actually helped her walk her life. Another interesting thing to notice is the fact that, in asian culture, one takes off the shoes when entering a home or a private space. There is a scene where, Yukino agrees for Takao to make her a custom made shoe.
From there after is an intimate montage of shots where Yukino gives him her leg to take the measurements. This marks the first time, where the two shed there the awkwardness and start admiring each other. Another scene where shoes have been used wisely is at the time of the confrontation where she does not even think about the shoes while getting outside the house. This can be interpreted as a fact that she wasn’t getting outside any personal space (house) in the first place. Shoes have given the characters and the film a deeper meaning.
Another element which Makoto Shinkai uses is the Rain. Rain forms the backbone of the love story between Yukino and Takao. Normally, rain is seen as a sign of sadness. It is usually used to show dull and loneliness. But this film breaks that boundary and uses rain in perhaps an ironic sense. Rain brings Yukino and Takao together. Their entire love story revolves around this season and cultivates there. This is seen as when the scene starts to change they start growing apart. And when they meet after that, it again raining. It is beautiful of the filmmaker Makoto Shinkai to express the love through outlandish means. During the last scene, climax, it is raining in the beginning of the confrontation but soon as the climax ends and Yukino hugs Takao, a ray of sunlight is seen. This is a mark of the genius filmmakers, that a lot can be interpreted just by understanding things. He need not tell us what the characters were thinking directly, but a ray of sunlight amidst the rains did.
Similarly the garden is also used by the filmmaker in a very interesting sense. The garden forms the impression of Yukino in the mind of Takao. Takao sees Yukino as a very mysterious woman who keeps the secrets of the world, the same way the garden is hidden as a secret in the tall skyscrapers. We know about this when, Yukino is sitting and a couple comes past and the boy states that he can’t believe they’re still in Shinjuku. This is one of the major reasons why Shinkai used the the stairs for the climax. If the garden is the land of mysteries, where the two meet and slowly start building the relationship, the stairs in the concrete building signifies things to be sorted and leave no room for the mysteries. The last wide shot also has the garden in the background, signifying that they are no longer a part of the world.
Director Makoto Shinkai is also seen experimenting visually with the film. One notices the constant use of frame within a frame. This visually narrates the relationship of the two. There is a constant interplay of this frame within a frame phenomenon throughout the film. In the initial period Yukino and Takao are seen in different frames within a single frame. This clearly tells us that they are apart, but slowly they get together in a single frame. One instance where this visual subtext gives us more information than dialogues is the scene where Takao is taking Yukino’s foot measurements. The two are seen in one frame at first but later a wide shot with a branch in the middle separates them. This visually informs the audience better along with the monologue.
This short film, though animated is very human. It displays emotions which we feel everyday. It shows conflicts we face everyday and is shows the love we express everyday. The film descends into the climax as Takao expresses his love for the much older Yukino. The film previously established the closing distance between the two, but this time she addresses herself as the teacher, while sitting on a higher platform to him. Thereafter we go to a big monologue of Takao where he addresses each and every issue that has been put forward in the film, and is followed by a very brief hug of the two. This hug implies their acceptance towards each other’s feeling but nothing else. The film does not end like other mainstream films with the two getting together since that is never the main purpose, but with the two getting on to their respective lives, feeling better and matured and not at all lonely.
I personally feel the film is one of the best animated films made in the recent years. It is not only visually stimulating but mentally and emotionally stimulating as well. The director has used many things apart from the usual dialogue or monologue to establish meaning. Everything was deliberate and had a purpose. There was so much going on that the film felt much longer than just 45 minutes. The beauty of The Garden of Words is that it allows for multiple interpretations. The ending does not reveal what happens to Takao and Yukino, so those who value duty can believe that they never get back together even if Takao goes to visit Yukino. A director who can convey a lot just by using the language of cinema is perhaps considered a good director and Makoto Shinkai’s creative and efficient use of metaphors makes him one.