Garden of Words (Kotonoha no Niwa)

Garden of Words (Kotonoha no Niwa) 2013

If you’re a Makoto Shinkai fan and for some reason you’ve overlooked Garden of Words I reckon you should rectify that and take a look.

The movie is shorter than a feature film but that compressed the storytelling and worked really well for me, so it felt like the perfect length. Garden of Words also plays to all Shinkai’s strengths with beautiful backgrounds, wonderful attention to detail, a dramatic love story and coming of age themes.

I also feel like there are echoes of films like Whisper of the Heart within, along with a clear nod to Cinderalla and the fairy tale genre in particular.

Like a lot of film, it presents an idealised story, a romanticised one, but one where the beauty doesn’t mask the real fears and problems the two main characters face.

As is my way with these write-ups, I won’t spend much time on the plot but Garden of Words could be called a ‘first love’ story with the coming of age aspects not limited to the main character, perhaps. I’ve spent a bit of space here trying to define it via themes or genre but perhaps a single word is better – I think the movie is sweet.

And maybe that’s ‘sweet’ but spiked with a moment or two that’s more bittersweet. Maybe that won’t be a surprise for fans of Makoto Shinkai, though the film is certainly no ‘downer’ either.

Even if you don’t end up gripped by the story the visuals will probably transfix you – the garden and the characters’ homes, the weather, it’s all pretty stunning.

In fact, I’ll watch it again for the rain alone, it’s sublime. And yeah, I’ll cut back on my quest for a superlative now and try and wrap it up by saying that I think this is a sweet, intimate film made all the more so by slow* pacing, by lots of close-ups and nature-based framing, by silences and earnest dialogue.

4 Stars

As a fan of haiku and renku, I really enjoyed the appearance of classic Japanese poetry in the story too, via the tanka that features as a plot point 🙂

*And this might be redundant, but just like the word ‘sweet’ further above, I don’t mean for ‘slow’ to be a negative here.

5 thoughts on “Garden of Words (Kotonoha no Niwa)

  1. That was a nice review even though we have differing opinions. The animation is certainly gorgeous and one could argue it’s one of Shinkai’s best looking movies so far. I’m a poet, so I did geek out about the usage of haiku and tanka involved. However, the character dynamics of the main characters really made me raise my eyebrows and this movie would never be made if the genders were reversed. I do respect your opinion on the matter though.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Same! It was fun to see poetry having that role 🙂

      That’s a good point, I hadn’t considered that re: if the genders had been reversed. I always saw any romantic feelings as very one-sided thing from Takao, which I think the film shows of course, and yet if it had been an older male and a high-school girl, maybe that aspect would have been raked over the coals?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Definitely! Japanese poetry had an influence on me. I did a video challenge on my main blog where I did a Katauta video for an entire year one week at a time.

        No problem and thanks for seeing where I was coming from with that issue. It certainly was one-sided which I do agree with you on. If this was an older man and a high school girl, everybody would freak out. That’s one issue I had with other media like Happy Lesson, Y Tu Mama Tambien, and Somers Town to name a few.

        Liked by 1 person

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