Netflix Review – The Garden of Words: Love And Loneliness Can Both Be Beautiful

Makoto Shinkai, the director of Your Name, the highest-grossing Anime film of all time, brought us this short movie about love and isolation.

SUMMARY (Spoiler-Free)

Takao Akizuki (Miyu Irino/Patrick Poole) is a 15 year old student who aspires to become a shoemaker. He lives with his older brother in Tokyo after their mother moves out to stay with her new boyfriend. On days when it rains, he likes to sit in a covered area in the public garden and sketch shoe designs, skipping his first class of the day. One day he meets 27-year-old Yukari Yukino (Kana Hanazawa/Maggie Flecknoe), a woman who appears to be skipping out on work  by drinking beer and eating chocolate. After they sit together for a few minutes, she departs by reciting a tanka (a japanese poem that has 5 lines). When he stops again on the next rainy day, he finds her again. The two continue to meet on rainy days, leading to an odd and beautiful relationship.

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I saw that cup on Game of Thrones.

END SUMMARY

I admit that this movie is going to be a little unusual for certain audiences who are used to typical structures and rules for movies, particularly the ending. I’m not trying to spoil anything, just saying that you may end the film wondering where the rest of the story is. Part of the reason for that is that the movie is only about 45 minutes long, which also makes it feel somewhat incomplete. However, if you’re like me, you may end up liking these elements because the movie tells exactly the story that it intends to tell and then leaves it up to us to think about what we’ve just seen.

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It sticks with you, and that’s the hallmark of a good story.

One of the central themes of this film is love as explored under a traditional Japanese interpretation. I haven’t tried to read Japanese in like 10 years and I wasn’t that great then, so bear with me when I tell you what the director was apparently going for. So, in Japanese, at least before they started dealing with Westerners, there wasn’t exactly a word that was an equivalent of the English meaning of Love. There was “ai,” which covered selfless love or parental love, and derived from the word for beauty. Then there was “koi,” which covered romantic love, but originally was written using the kanji meaning “lonely sadness.” Essentially, it’s the feeling of longing for someone when you’re alone. Apparently this was used frequently in the Man’yōshū, a Japanese collection of poems referenced in the film. 

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Syllable count: 5-7-5-7-7, but the first two are combined in English.

This film emphasizes this concept of “lonely sadness” repeatedly, because both of the characters are constantly seeking a form of solitude. The reason that they go to the park when it rains is because the rain not only emphasizes the beauty of the plants around them, but also keeps most people away. They bond over the fact that both of them like the beautiful solitude of the rain. They’re alone together. The movie doesn’t say that solitude is necessarily negative, either. While Yukari’s solitude is the result of mental health issues, Takao’s solitude grows over the movie as his brother moves out, yet he still manages to work on his passion for nice shoes. However, we do see that his longing for Yukari’s company grow when he is alone. As rainy days get rarer, so too are their meetings, and both long for the rain to come just so they know they could see the other. Part of love is learning to cope with the longing when you cannot be with someone, either temporarily or otherwise.

The sun can burn you in a lot of ways.

The shoes within the movie are a metaphor that is explicitly explained by the characters. Yukari is suffering from a mental breakdown that makes her skip work and causes her to be unable to taste food right. She compares her crippling depression to being unable to actually walk, so her relationship with Takao is him both literally and figuratively giving her the shoes to walk with. Like I said, they make this explicit in the film, but I still think it was a clever and beautiful metaphor.

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Quentin Tarantino loved this part.

Beauty is pretty much the central thing about this movie. Everything in it has a certain beauty to it that comes from its simplicity and focus. The art style is breathtaking, particularly the garden setting and the rain effects, but the amount of detail in some of the shots really sets this apart. There are varying art styles throughout the film, ranging from watercolor-like backdrops to extremely realistic water effects. You can either see the brush strokes or the wood grains, depending, but it always emphasizes the relationship between the characters and the objects. 

Well, it blew me away, at least.

Honestly, I loved Your Name and I definitely consider that to be Makoto Shinkai’s magnum opus to this point, but this film really did speak to me. It’s short, so it’s not much of an investment of time to get through it. I will say that this film does have to be watched in Japanese, because many of the lines just don’t sound right in the dub on Netflix. It’s not that the translation is bad, in fact they basically just read the subtitles, but since many of the lines are designed to sound like some forms of Japanese poetry, the dub doesn’t quite get the nuance. 

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