Makoto Shinkai first appeared on the anime scene with the amazing Voices of a Distant Star and in the time since continued to wow viewers with his movies. From interesting settings, to unique situations, to characters that viewers can’t help but feel for, Makoto has a way about creating a perfectly complete story in an OVA length animation. His latest, The Garden of Words, is now upon us, so it is time we find out if his spark for creating stories and visuals can still match his previous works, or if this is a miss lost in the crowd.
At first glance, the premise of The Garden of Words may seem like it could be overly generic or predictable. The story of a young high school boy that starts developing a relationship with an older woman, is certainly something that could go in ways we’ve seen or heard about before, but the method of the story is so much more removed than that. The boy, Takao Akizuki, lives in his own world hoping to become a handmade shoemaker, while the woman, Yukari Yukino, is far more mysterious both to him and the viewer as neither knows who she is or what she does.
The relationship that the two develop starts from a chance encounter on a rainy day in the park, where Takao goes to avoid his first few periods of class and work on shoe designs. Here at the start of the rainy season, he meets a strange lady drinking beer and eating chocolate that he continues to see each rainy morning he returns to the park. The great boon of the movie is that it knows when to focus on something and when not to, as it is the start of the rainy season these encounters occur frequently, but much of it is covered in montage. While others might spend more time on this initial build up to pad out the time, here it focuses on only the most important parts of this relationship and allows viewers to form their own opinions on them warming up to each other.
Their relationship builds until they both find themselves wishing for rain to see the other, but when the end of the rainy season comes they find themselves separated. Takao busy with summer work, the story then focuses on Yukino and sheds light on why she has been going to the park. Because of the nature of these revelations, and how some aspects are left to viewer opinion, I’ll refrain from spoiling these, but with these revelations the story begins to build up. Ignited by an even more chance encounter, both characters are forced to face who they are in one of the most emotional scenes in a long time, capped off by a song suited perfectly to the themes of rain and loneliness.
The animation quality of The Garden of Words is by far astounding. The attention to detail is immense as well as the realism, the surroundings refract onto the characters making them feel as if they are actually there, when many animation looks much like characters overlaid the much more detailed backgrounds. Blu-Ray is definitely the ideal because of this level of detail and how real some parts look, as on of the opening shots it was difficult to tell it was drawn.
Another interesting aspect of the visuals is the imagery, as Takao has aspersions of becoming a shoemaker there does end up being a lot of shots focused towards feet or shoes. Not really a big deal, and befitting the character, but the amount of these shots can be slightly staggering to the point of seeming fetishistic. Has a whole they have their place and definitely fit, so this is simply a heads up to keep those from getting caught off guard by this.
The Garden of Words maintains its realism with its use of music, as its use it mainly limited to montages and the ending credits. The montages capture the atomosphere through the wonderful piano music that overlaps them, while the ending theme, “Rain” performed by Motohiro Hata, captures the essence of not only the rain so prevalent throughout the movie, but of a man meeting a woman in the rain and not wanting her to go. Outside of these songs the background noise is mainly the sound of the rain, but also other white noise from people talking to faint traffic. This is another small detail that helps to catch the realism and brings it to life.
The voice acting is incredible for both the original Japanese and the English dub, as the story features the two main characters so much and they are the ones doing the vast majority of the talking. Other characters range from a single line to two scenes at most, while either Takao and/or Yukino are in every scene. What makes the voice acting so incredible is not just how much is spent by the two main characters, but the tear filled climax that finds both the English and Japanese equally emotional, with both languages featuring the perfect actors to fit the emotion heavy scene.
The special features for this movie offer much more than a standard release, with two commentary tracks, storyboards, production stills from the English dub, interviews with the original Japanese actors and director, and a slew of trailers. The commentary are the most interesting as one features the English dub actors, the second features director Makoto Shinkai translated via subtitles giving more information on the process and elements of the film. The storyboards give a nice look at how the visuals progressed from throughout production, while the English dub production stills give a glimpse at the often overlooked process of their recording. The interviews give a lot more information from the Japanese actors and the director for those wanting even more, while the trailers include Makoto’s past works as well as recent and upcoming releases from Sentai Filmworks. All together providing more special features than some entire series’ of anime.
The Garden of Words is a beautiful looking anime with fantastic music and actors with the ability to pull off such an emotional movie. Fans of Makoto Shinkai’s work have another great movie to add to their collection, while those that have missed his previous work have a perfect example of why is he so great at what he does. While short, a little more than 45 minutes in length, the movie feels neither rushed nor incomplete and there is plenty more value added bu the special features
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