The Garden of Words Preview: Shinkai’s gracious return to realism?

CoMix Wave describes the story:

We have met, for each of us to walk forward.
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. They deepen their relationship and open up to each other. But the end of the rainy season soon approaches…

The Garden of Words appears to be Shinkai’s gracious return to realism. Rather than focusing on a grand scope adventure like Children Who Chase Lost Voices, Shinkai’s new endeavour appears to focus on the relationship between two characters. Whilst the film’s predominant theme appears to be adolescent love, the added dynamic of one of the protagonists being in their twenties suggests that this relationship will be thought provoking and will lead to strong messages as to what love actually means. Shinkai himself said that rather than looking at the western form of love, he wishes to return to the Japanese meaning of the word as in ‘lonely sadness’. This idea is very reminiscent of the messages of the first two acts of 5 Centimetres Per Second; whilst the films’ protagonists were ‘in love’ as such, they were unable or restrained from admitting and expressing it and were forced to live their lives in ‘lonely sadness’.

The story itself sounds intriguing. The idea of a mysterious woman only appearing when it’s raining sounds very much akin to old Japanese tales from the Warring States or Edo period about encountering beautiful women in gardens and fields. However this idea of the shoemaker makes it seem almost reminiscent of a Victorian folk tale. What is certain however is that the film will have strong focuses on restrained or repressed love, this idea is reinforced by the brief shot of a young girl being stricken. How the film will be split up is uncertain. In the past with many of his works, he has preferred to split the film up into three different time periods and acts, the age of the two protagonists seems to be consistent throughout the whole trailer, so at the moment it seems unlikely.

What is most impressive about the trailer is the animation. The production team appear to have learnt a lot from Children Who Chase Lost Voices in terms of how to use computer generated lighting, animate water effects and create magnificent swooping camera effects. Character designs look almost like a cross between Shinkai’s earlier work and those of Children Who Chase Lost Voices. Shinkai is of course directing and was the one who conceived the film, however interestingly Kenichi Tsuchiya (the director of animation and character design) is taking up his first directorial role, before this point he has only ever been a key animator in minor productions with only one lead key animator role, what this means is uncertain. Hopefully Shinkai firmly took him under his wing to make sure that production went smoothly. Takayo Nishimura, the animation director on both 5 Centimetres and Children Who Chase Lost Voices, had already one minor directorial role before he worked with Shinkai. Will this fact effect the outcome of the film? As of the moment it’s unknown.

In my opinion, to make sure that this film is as widely recognised as Ghibli productions (Shinkai has in the past suggested that this is his end goal) he needs to make sure that the themes which the film covers are not as unclear as Children Who Chase Lost Voices were. While I love the fact that all of his films are beautifully crafted, he needs to have focused more on story and narrative this time around than on the art work and animation, not doing this is what made his previous film so hollow in places. The great emphasis on the story is always what made his earlier films so memorable, while all of his films look pretty, his previous stories have changed my perception on life. Children Who Chase Lost Voices on the other hand just left me questioning what I was meant to feel and why the ending was so briefly covered. While all of Ghibli films have stunning art work and animation, it’s their stories that have made films like Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away so special and enchanting. As the split critical opinion over Ponyo shows, if you place art over narrative your film will never fulfil it’s potential.

As Shinkai returns to the anime genre in which he has performed best in the past, we can only hope that he hasn’t lost his flare that made 5 Centimetres Per Second and The Place Promised in Our Early Days so special and memorable.

The film will be shown in Japan on May 31, and will be adapted into a manga in Afternoon magazine in April.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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11 Comments

  1. This is Tarantino’s most expected movie of this year! Im drooling at the preview! I really enjoyed 5 Centimers Per Second, it was so powerful! I have a feeling this will be even more compelling.

  2. WillStocks

    I’ve got high hopes for it too, It looks like it’ll be an interesting new take on the relationship between two characters, just as 5 Centimetres was

  3. Jordan

    This is awesome. I didn’t realize there was a new Shinkai film in the works! This one sounds kind of like a 5 Centimeters clone….. but I’ll still watch it anyway!! 😛 thanks for writing this. It was very informative.

    • WillStocks

      Thanks, I think it sounds like a more mature version of 5 Centimetres, when are your Miyazaki articles coming? I’m really looking forward to reading them 🙂

      • Jordan

        LOl I’m sorry to keep you waiting on them. I am trying to hunt down Princess Mononoke from my public library so I can watch it in full, then I can finally write up that first article. As for the other one, that will be a while away.

  4. Mattias Loránd
    0

    You know how to hype us don’t you! Shinkai is a master and I believe in him. The trailer did not spark a fire in my radar but Anime trailers never do (I don’t know why). I’m waiting with anticipation!

  5. WillStocks

    Glad you’re looking forward to it :), hopefully there’ll be a limited cinema release in the west for it some time in the future

  6. Panpan Yang

    Still remember the first time I watched 5 Centimeters per Second (dir. Shinkai 2007), I got obsessed with the director – in my mind, his good eye for light changes the concept of anime.

  7. I’ve never seen 5 centimeters per Second, but I have watched his short film, Voice of a Distant Star, which sounds like it had that same theme of “lonely sadness” being equated with love. And that is certainly also true of this film! Oh man, what a sad ending this film had(in my opinion). But it really is realistic, in more way than one. Not only is the plot free of sentimentality and contrivances, the animation style is so realistic and life like. Although the plot of this movie was fine, I do think the art really blew the story away. Shinkai rendered Shinjuku Gyoen with such painstaking accuracy, my friends and I were able to recreate some of the scene in the movie shot for shot when we visited last year! Apparently, the female protagonist is going to have a cameo in the upcoming Kimi no na was(your name). Maybe she’ll have a happier ending.

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