The Garden of Words
15-year-old Takao Akizuki, while cutting classes during Japan's rainy season, keeps encountering 27-year-old Yukari Yukino in a shelter in the park. Could a relationship develop between them, especially if there were other issues besides the age difference?
The art here is so spectacular that it largely (though maybe not entirely) overwhelms the show's flaws. The backgrounds are among the most gorgeous I've ever seen. The conventional art is lovingly detailed (a doorknob looks real enough to turn); the CG is exquisitely done (the splashing of raindrops on pavement is utterly convincing); and there's some actual photographic footage in here as well, I think; if it's CG, it's indistinguishable from the real thing. It's all melded together as seamlessly as I've ever seen it done. Japan has never looked so beautiful; even the urban landscapes looked wonderful. And as for the park where Takao and Yukari meet-I was thinking of the description of "deeper Narnia" in C. S. Lewis' The Last Battle, which is supposed to look just like Narnia except that everything is so much more vivid; the park in The Garden of Words could BE a place in Deeper Narnia. The character art is more conventional, but Yukari is still rendered quite lovely, and one of her appendages seems to have been rendered with especial care and affection, but I'll get to that a bit later.
The story, on the other hand, is...well, a little bit spare. A slight digression: I've recently been watching another anime, which I won't name because it's not mine to review, which has a more substantial story but is done in what I find to be hideous, carelessly-done rotoscoped animation. Rotoscoping, which is digital painting over live-action footage, has always struck me as a "dumbing down" of reality, even when it's well done; animation like that of The Garden of Words, which involves actually creating detailed worlds ab initio, whether by hand or computer, I find to be far more admirable- though I admire such animation more when paired with a solid story...
...OK, digression over. Back to the plot of The Garden of Words. This show is, first of all, ironically named. Takao and Yukari don't say much to each other during their initial meeting, and while we SEE them converse in subsequent encounters, we mostly don't HEAR it. A late scene in Yukari's apartment actually had dialogue that got excised; it's in the DVD's Director's Commentary presentation, which I found extremely helpful in watching this. The excised dialogue may be banal, but banal isn't necessarily bad; relationships have lots of small talk, as well as more critical moments.
But the most important words not being said here are not being said by Yukari. In director Makato Shinkai's (The Place Promised In Our Early Days, 5 Centimeters Per Second) own words, Yukari is a "horrible woman", apparently because Yukari, by withholding a relationship-killing bit of information, may be seen as leading poor Takao on. I'm rather sympathetic to her myself- I can completely understand how someone with her situational depression (and related suite of hysterical-conversion disorders) can accept the affection of a fairly handsome, attentive suitor, despite the age difference (and despite the thing she's hiding as well.) In any case, she's not just a "taker" in the relationship; in the show's most erotic scene (Shinkai himself calls it thus), Yukari offers Takao the part of her he wants most from her- her foot.
Yep. He wants to be a shoemaker, which he admits is a rather odd occupational desire today (I had to agree), and she offers him her foot as a model for him to build a shoe around. She has a lovely foot, of course, beautifully detailed, but maybe I should leave further comments on this matter to the Audience section.
This is pretty much the whole setup. My problem with this is that I found the denouement- if there actually WAS one- rather unsatisfying. Even if the relationship we see on screen may not last- even if we're pretty sure it won't- things need to come to some good stopping point. This show is only 46 minutes long; if it needed to be longer to get there, not a problem. As with Sweet Blue Flowers, the ending credits start rolling just as matters start getting interesting; SBF could have stood another episode or two, and this one could have easily stood expansion to 60 or even 90 minutes to get a better resolution than it has.
Speaking of the ending, the closing song is, according to Shinkai, a pop song from the Eighties that he really liked; it's very pretty, and fits the show well- or maybe inspired it in the first place?
Bottom line: the art's worth the price of admission, easily, but intellectually the story feels like an unpolished draft short story by an inexperienced writer who's not quite sure where to go with it. It DOES successfully invoke mood, however. — Allen Moody
Recommended Audience: If you are a foot fetishist, you will be much more turned on by this than some people will think you have a right to be. Otherwise, there's nothing here that anyone who was good with Maison Ikkoku would have a problem with. Recommendations include a couple of other shows with older women/younger men pairs. Let's face it, lots of younger guys really like to fantasize about having an older, more experienced lover show them the ropes, but even they might be expecting a bit more than this show is willing to give them.
Version(s) Viewed: R1 DVD
Review Status: Full (1/1)
The Garden of Words © 2013 Makato Shinkai/CoMix Wave Films
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