16 CommentsAnime Analysis / By Inushinde /

The Garden of Words: Rains of the Patriots Tactical Romance Action

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Makoto Shinkai films are notable for two things: Memorable titles, and the pursuit blue ballsing the fuck out of the audience. The Garden of Words continues one of these proud traditions while completely fucking the other with the rustiest railroad spike it could get its grubby mitts on. Since the most iconic moments shared are in silence, with the only sounds being the incessant pattering of rain and the incessant melancholic plonks of the film’s subdued soundtrack, I take issue with the “Words” aspect of the title, as it’s both vague and largely incorrect.

Then again, maybe that was the point since those few words are the film’s focus and easily the highlight, but something about the title is still awkward at conveying just what the film is. Maybe ‘I Wanted an Excuse to Film Feet as part of an Overarching Theme of Transience’ would have been better, if far less pithy. Or ‘The Garden of Feetden’.

The Garden of Words follows Takao, a boy with the high aspirations of one day becoming a shoemaker. Whether it’s because of a repressed foot fetish or more likely a case of “we haven’t seen one of these in anime,” I’ll never know, though I think it’s safer to assume the latter than to suggest that there’s anything remotely sexual here. Sure, sex is occasionally bandied about here and there, but it’s only the result of a group of upperclassmen that spread nasty rumors about Takao’s eventual love interest. Said love interest is Yukari, a woman who spends every rainy day relaxing in a covered deck while ingesting nothing but beer and chocolate—the very deck that Takao skips school on rainy days to draw shoes under. If Garden of Words proves anything, it’s that delinquency and public drunkenness in conjunction are the keys to any successful relationship.

Shinkai’s intention to blue-balls the audience is very much on display as ever, and it’s no less skeevy here than it is anywhere else. It puts the concept of a romantic relationship on a pedestal to sigh over and aspire toward, but never quite reach, and I don’t think I’ll ever understand the appeal of dwelling on bitter nostalgia. However, The Garden of Words is the closest that I’ve seen to making that masochism succeed. The inevitability is there, but Takao and Yukari are strong enough to stand on their own against the tides of separation, and there’s no guarantee that they won’t end up back together once Takao completes high school.

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I’ve always been of the mind that romance in media is difficult to pull off effectively, because doing so means that it can’t be the end that the various plots wrap around. It’s a trap that 99% of all romance media fall into specifically by labeling themselves as romance. To me, the best romance makes you forget that the two will eventually develop feelings for each other, instead engrossing you in their mundane interactions. It should feel like watching real individuals learn an appreciation for each other, rather than two robots whose sole purpose for existing is to kiss and awkwardly flirt in a halfhearted, cynical effort to make the audience feel warm and fuzzy.

The Garden of Words is one of the only specifically labeled anime romance films I’ve seen that understands romance’s strength as a means of strengthening its characters, rather than as a vague goal to aim for at the expense of each individual, or as a set of colorful tassels to throw in just because. Takao and Yukari’s interactions are entirely believable, because they progress organically as they rely on each other for moral support through personal crises. Theirs is a relationship born of an emotional need for support through hard times, illustrated through the ham-handed, if competent theme of rain and a noticeable focus on feet.

When it finally grows into an extremely tenuous romance, it feels like a natural progression rather than a forced development. Even then, it’s refreshingly auxiliary, with the two serving as friends more than anything else. The best example comes roughly halfway through the film when Takao confronts some uperclassmen that forced Yukari to take a leave of absence from her job by spreading rumors about her. His fury is understandable because they harassed somebody that he knows doesn’t deserve it, not specifically because he’s attracted to her.

It’s incredibly easy to get embroiled in Yukari and Takao’s lives, helped largely by consistent, nearly perfect pacing. It never reaches the plodding, navel-gazing banality of 5cm/s, nor speeds toward a conclusion of innocent, G-rated love while disregarding everything that leads to that point. Nothing drags the film down, and the connection between Yukari and Takao is palpable. The moments that they spend interacting are treated with the utmost care so that none feel superfluous or wanting.

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The Garden of Words is a cut and dry, no-frills affair that remains fairly down to earth. With the elusive twins of solid pacing and fabulous visual direction holding it up (though Shinkai doesn’t get points for that anymore), there’s a surprisingly poignant tale that does damn near everything right. It sure isn’t perfect, with some elements being shallower than they could’ve been, but everything that eventually goes back to Yukari and Takao makes this a solid watch.

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16 Comments

  1. Posted June 8, 2013 at 9:04 am | Permalink

    Still don’t get why people call Shinkai the next Miyazaki when he’s clearly the next Jun Maeda. I’ll leave it up in the air whether that sounds like a compliment or a criticism.

    • Joel
      Posted June 8, 2013 at 11:02 am | Permalink

      It’s because Miyazaki is more famous and beloved than Jun Maeda so it’s more sensational for an article to call him the next Miyazaki and will make more people comment on the article or send the newspaper letters, which is very good business.

    • Joel
      Posted June 8, 2013 at 11:06 am | Permalink

      But you are absolutely right in that comparison

    • Posted June 8, 2013 at 10:00 pm | Permalink

      Well, Maeda writes for a VN company and has only been directly involved (unless he supervised the scripts for the other Key stuff like Reki Kawahara did regarding SAO) with Angel Beats. He’s not a director and writer the way Miyazaki is, so I’m not sure where the comparison even comes from.

      But anyways, it’s common for most upcoming directors to be compared to Miyazaki because he’s the gold standard for most people in regards to talented animation directors. I think Mamoru Hosada has been compared to him as well, even if his films are little too safe for that.

      • Posted June 9, 2013 at 6:26 am | Permalink

        I’m not compared them in technical terms, but in how both Shinkai and Maeda are known for writing romances where odd circumstances get in the way of a grounded happy ending. Also, they’re both kind of schmaltzy in terms of emotion.

  2. Posted June 8, 2013 at 9:44 am | Permalink

    Tl;dr. All things by Shinkai are boring and only good for wallpapers. Yes, I am aware of that one that tried to emulate Ghibli but I prefer to watch Ghibli by Ghibli, not Paulo Coelho.

  3. Pusswookie
    Posted June 8, 2013 at 10:08 am | Permalink

    The title sounds for all the word like a Metal Gear Solid dating sim.

    • Billish
      Posted June 9, 2013 at 12:17 am | Permalink

      My god. Dinged that one right outta the park friend

  4. Outcast
    Posted June 8, 2013 at 10:31 am | Permalink

    So what you’re saying is Makoto Shinkai actually is improving? And Really Long Title Involving Children And Dreams wasn’t just a one-off?

    • Inushinde
      Posted June 9, 2013 at 2:29 am | Permalink

      Believe it or not he is! Or maybe this is also a fluke.

  5. Kian The Persian
    Posted June 10, 2013 at 10:01 am | Permalink

    One of my problems with this movie is that Takao is a 15 year old boy. Now, I am no expert on love nor romance but you can’t fool me to believe that a 15 year old boy can handle a relationship with an adult woman with the tact and respect that he did. I mean if he were really acting like a 15 year old, raging with hormones and such, I am not sure he would have acted like he did when he was at her house!

  6. inqbtor
    Posted June 10, 2013 at 10:21 am | Permalink

    Was at the premiere of this film with Shinkai answering questions from the audience. Someone asked: why rain? He said it was because he wanted to show love is something that will happen whether you want to or not, like how you can’t control when rain falls.
    Shinkai continues with his cute romantic themes after all.

  7. crazyapple92
    Posted June 10, 2013 at 12:49 pm | Permalink

    I really enjoyed the movie, but then these types of films always do it for me.

    I was ready to lose my mind in the first few minutes though. Who raised their hand in the meeting and said, “Hey, here’s a good idea, let’s ANIMATE a scene where it starts out of focus and then slowly moves into focus.”

    And everyone thought it was a good idea.

    So he raised his hand again, “Glad that went over so well with you guys, let’s do it several times in the first few minutes of the film!”

    It was a really silly piece of animation that should never have been used in the first place, much less overused. But the rest of the film was stunning as usual so I can forgive it… almost.

  8. Posted June 17, 2013 at 12:39 pm | Permalink

    I’m glad that you liked the romantic part. To tell the truth, I’d prefer it without the romance in the end. Like, please, I’m bored and had enough with teacher-student relationships. Thank goodness the end was kinda open, so I can interpret it as they never met again. What was worthy was that two strangers with different problems could help support one another.

    About the title, I was puzzled a bit as well. But words are there even when not spoken, so in that sense perhaps it meant more their non-verbal interaction?

    As for the foot focus, Shinkai says in an interview that he wanted to have someone who has a dream and evolves and for him a craftsman is the ideal representation. It just happened to be shoe-maker, which tied later very well with the theme of support. Aaaaaand the scene where Takao touches Yukino’s feet was made like they were making love. Or something like that.

    • tecenda
      Posted June 18, 2013 at 11:20 pm | Permalink

      Wow, knowing that he had such depth to his writing is fascinating. I mean, there were times where I thought he was just rehashing the theme of unrequited love and unfortunate circumstances in all of his movies, but it looks like for this particular movie at least, he’s spent some time and done some homework creating these characters and thinking about how to develop them. I must say that’s an improvement, and it shows in this movie. For once I got to see the two main characters embrace each other so it didn’t feel like another highly sentimental yet unfulfilling tease, although some might say it still is. I consider this progress.

      • ThatGuy
        Posted October 6, 2013 at 2:43 am | Permalink

        I’ve actually gotta disagree with you on that one. That was something that made his previous films like 5cm/s so unforgettable. It was so grounded in realism that it made you think about your own life and how these kinds of rather bittersweet endings do happen quite often.
        Not that I dislike the direction that Garden of Words took. Its just a different kind of emotion at the end, something that feels less daring.

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