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‘Garden of Words’ Movie Review – is sweet in its simplicity

‘Garden of Words’ Movie Review – is sweet in its simplicity

Garden of Wordsimage


Written by Makoto Shinkai
Directed by Makoto Shinkai
Japan, 2012

It would not be a proper Fantasia Film Featival experience without some Japanese animated features. Of all the countries that regularly produce theatrical animated movies, Japan has reigned supreme in terms of content and style for decades already. The United States has several studios consistently releasing animated adventures, but for a variety of reasons, many people would not be caught dead saying they prefer the American output over that of the Japanese artists. One such anime that arrives at Fantasia with a fair amount of buzz is Makoto Shinkai’s Garden of Words, representing a change of pace from the science-fiction laden efforts he typically works on.

Takao Akizuki (Miyu Irino) is a 15 year old high school student whose dream is to become a professional shoe maker. If that sounds vaguely old fashioned in the romantic sense of the term, consider that Takao has an affinity for rainy mornings. When Mother Nature has it poor down on the city, the young lad forsakes public transportation in favour of walking with his umbrella to a gazebo in the park instead of going to school. It is there that he makes the acquaintance of a nice looking woman (Kana Hanazawa) in her twenties drinking cans of beer and eating chocolate bars. In turns out she too skips out on obligations to hang out in the rain on a regular basis. The two strike a friendship…

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Running at just over 40 minutes, Garden of Words is not a real feature length  production, but rather an extended short which knows exactly what story it wishes to tell and does just that without overstaying its welcome.  The film wears an obvious romanticism on its shoulder, exploring ideas like young love, impossible love, and the juxtaposition of the beauty found in human relationships and that of the natural world. Credit to writer-director Shinkai for managing to get all of his ideas into the movie’s relatively brief length in as succinct yet fulfilling a manner as possible. No time is wasted but nor does anything feel rushed.

The film is also welcomely mature for how it treats its characters, most notably the love-struck adolescent protagonist. Viewers, unless very gullible, will understand perfectly well that Takao’s true feelings cannot be returned by the woman who fascinates him so much. Most people have, during their childhood or teenage years experience something similar, experienced an unexplainable attraction to someone obviously much older and who therefore will never reciprocate the same emotions. Garden of Words taps into that predicament in a dramatically satisfying way, save perhaps for the final few minutes which embrace unabashed melodrama and not exactly to the best effect.

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One final note should be made regarding the animation which is second to none. There are so many animated films emerging out of Japan and several other countries each and every year that is becomes challenging to state which ones genuinely sport better visuals than others. Garden of Words stays true to the more traditional, two-dimensional hand drawn style, doing so to superb effect. There are some subtle moments showcasing the play of shadow and light or rain drops landing in a lake that honesty could be mistaken for live action footage. If for nothing else, Shinkai’s film is a must see simply to admire its beauty.

There is nothing overtly grand scale about the film. Whatever grandeur that can be found in Garden of Words concerns the titanic emotions that rush through us when unmistakably attracted to another person, experiencing uncertainty about whether or not they feel the same and when an unhappy ending seems imminent.

-Edgar Chaput

The Fantasia Film Festival celebrates 15 years and runs from July 18th to August 7th, 2013. For a complete schedule of films, screening times, and ticket information, please visit the official website for the Fantasia Film Festival.

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