Entering ‘The Garden of Words’
Ashley Jo Will
I was immediately attracted to the cover art of “The Garden of Words” featuring a picturesque scene of two people conversing in a garden. Written and directed by Makota Shinkai, “The Garden of Words” tells a story of a friendship that forms between a teenage boy and an older woman. Released on video Aug. 6, 2013, this Japanese animated film looks beautiful as well as tells a sentimental tale. Takao Akizuki is a 15-year-old boy who spends most of his time alone. He has been living with his mother and brother but they are both leaving. Takao’s mother is moving in with her new young boyfriend and Takao’s brother is moving in with his girlfriend. Takao may only be 15 but he seems much more mature than other people his age. No matter why, Takao is who he is because of his affection for solitude. After Takao meets Yukari Yukino, he doesn’t always want to be alone. The audience discovers that Takao and Yukari need each other and will surely hope their friendship will continue to blossom.
Takao seems to have the soul of an old man. In addition to a fondness for solitude, Takao has a passion for making shoes. Rather than having fun on summer vacation, Takao works to earn money for schooling and materials for making shoes. Takao’s greatest desire is to be a cobbler. This dream is unusual because it is such an antiquated profession. He has had an affection for shoes since he was a young boy. Takao has a room in his home that is his workshop and is most likely his favorite place to be. It is raining and Takao skips first period and enters a garden where he draws various designs for shoes on a notepad. To him, this is the perfect time and place for contemplation. Takao is not alone in thinking this garden is a wonderful place to be. Underneath the pergola is also a woman who appears to be an office worker skipping for the day. Takao says, “She seemed to represent the secrets of our world.” This older woman is already where Takao wants to be in life. She has a respectable job conveyed by her businesslike clothing. Yet Yukari Yukino doesn’t appear happy.
Yukari is a mysterious woman. Not much is known about her personal life until later in the film. All the audience knows is that she is hurting emotionally. Small misfortunes even make Yukari distraught. For example, Yukari’s makeup breaks and causes her to cry. There is something causing her stress at work and instead of confronting the situation, she is remaining anxious and avoiding any confrontation. Instead of going to work, Yukari goes to the garden and drinks beer and eats chocolate. Yukari notes in the film that these two items are the only tastes she can truly discern. When the audience enters Yukari’s home for he first time, they may notice her collection of literature. The first time Yukari meets Takao, she recites a tanka that calls for an answer from Takao. She had noticed his jacket with a school crest and decided to convey her knowledge of Japanese poetry. This also gives a clue to who Yukari really is which the audience will discover later in the film. Yukari may be an intelligent woman but is in a very weak emotional state.
Every day when it rains, Takao is sure to enter the garden and find Yukari there as well. It is a garden of few words but those words are pertinent because they strengthen the lives of both Takao and Yukari. Takao wonders if he is just some kid to Yukari. This thought is not likely because Yukari notes to herself that she is no smarter at 27 than she was at 15, Takao’s age. Yukari tells Takao that she is attempting to walk by herself. At first I thought perhaps Yukari had a physical limitation but rather I believe she meant she is searching for a way to make her way through life amid struggling with her emotions. Without even intending to, Takao is helping Yukari with the ability to walk throughout life and perhaps return to work and leave her trouble aside. Likewise, Yukari is assisting Takao with his dream. Takao stares at Yukari’s feet and draws them as well as various shoes to place them in. One day Takao takes Yukari’s feet, as depicted on the video’s cover art, and traces them. Takao has never made shoes for anyone in particular before but this woman has motivated the young man.
It is clear that Yukari and Takao love one another to some degree. When Takao does not appear at the garden during summer vacation, Yukari is disappointed. Likewise when Yukari is not initially visible at the garden, the audience can feel Takao’s disappointment. In the garden, silence has the ability to say much more than any large amount spoken. One complaint I have is that the film is not long enough. With only 46 minutes to be invested in Yukari and Takao, I wished there was more time for deeper character development rather than just hitting a bit below the surface. I would definitely have continued to watch more tales about Yukari and Takao if it was an anime series. The artwork in this film is especially beautiful and close attention is paid to details such as the movement of paper, water, wind and more. Enter “The Garden of Words” and prepare to be touched by the companionship of Yukari and Takao which shapes both of their lives for the better.