Movie Review: The Garden of Words (Kotonoha no niwa)

The Garden of Words is one of the most beautiful anime movies ever made with believable characters, but this work of art hides a contrived love story and subtexts that its target audience may not fully grasp.

Takao, who is training to become a shoemaker, skipped school and is sketching shoes in a Japanese-style garden. He meets a mysterious woman, Yukino, who is older than him. Then, without arranging the times, the two start to see each other again and again, but only on rainy days.

The Garden of Words is a breathtaking animated movie that is another proof of the timeless art of Japanese anime. Let’s not forget that aside from the much hailed Pixar, there are Japanese animators who can make you feel all the feels without relying heavily on CGI.

The movie has photo-realistic images. This includes the accurate depiction of raindrops and Takao (who is a drawing himself) sketching a shoe. They evoke a mood that reflects the inner thoughts and emotions of its characters, while also standing as a visual metaphor for the development of their relationship.

Apart from the age difference, you can also see that Takao and Yukino are at a different point in their lives. The characters are plausible – he’s a mature guy immature at love, she’s an immature girl mature at love. Fortunately, the movie doesn’t exploit the age gap.

The love story though, could have used a bit more believability. A Japanese boy who is passionate about shoe-making for some reason happens to meet an older woman in a garden who needs to “walk again”. The movie spends long takes on weather but offers little about the individual stories of its characters and what lead them to the garden in the first place.

The movie’s symbolism for loneliness and longing can be lost on its young audience. Viewers with a short attention span will deem it slow. Those who are used to being spoon fed by the narrative will see it as too simple.

However, those who do pay attention will be rewarded with an endearing love story that has a realistic ending despite its fluffy plot. Words aren’t enough to describe how beautiful the movie is.

The Garden of Words shows us that we can, like what Rihanna once sung, fall in love in a hopeless place. As the rain showers swell into a storm, settle down and finally give way to rays of light the movie tells us that loneliness can end, and at the same time, show us how love can be unpredictable and complicated yet serendipitous and life-changing.

My Rating: 7.5/10

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