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The Garden of Words(2013)
When Takao, a young high school student who dreams of becoming a shoe designer, decides to skip school one day in favor of sketching in a rainy garden, he has no idea how much his life will change when he encounters Yukino. Older, but perhaps not as much wiser, she seems adrift in the world. Despite the difference in their ages, they strike up an unusual relationship that unexpectedly continues and evolves, without planning, with random meetings that always occur in the same garden on each rainy day. But the rainy season is coming to a close, and there are so many things still left unsaid and undone between them.
For more about The Garden of Words and the The Garden of Words Blu-ray release, see the The Garden of Words Blu-ray Review published by Jeffrey Kauffman on August 3, 2013 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Starring: Miyu Irino, Kana Hanazawa
Director: Makoto Shinkai
» See full cast & crew
The Garden of Words Blu-ray Review
School for scandal.
Reviewed by Jeffrey Kauffman, August 3, 2013
Note: The first paragraph of this review contains spoilers. Those who don't want at least one major plot point revealed may want to skip down to either the second paragraph or perhaps even better the technical aspects of the review, below.
The Garden of Words is a slow, delicate, incredibly artful anime short film that is evocative, sensitive and heartfelt. That might seem like an unqualified rave, and it is, more or less, except for one nagging point (and major spoiler alert for those who don't want to know one of this piece's central secrets): the film is about an unrequited love affair between a student and a teacher. Now hairs are going to be split over this, as the student is not in the teacher's class, and in fact for a lot of this already brief outing the student isn't even aware that his heartthrob is a teacher, but that doesn't completely erase a central plot device that some parents at least may find a little unsettling. I can't help but wonder if all of the lovely sentiments that are offered in The Garden of Words couldn't have been handled just as well without this really disturbing subtext, especially in this day and age where older teachers and their young "lovers" end up being exploited on very special episodes of Dr. Phil and the like. There are any number of places where The Garden of Words could have gone seriously off the railsŚits young male hero has a thing for designing women's shoes, for exampleŚand the point that writer-director Makoto Shinkai manages to overcome these potential obstacles with apparent ease then begs the question as to why a different connective tissue between the two characters couldn't have been found. This may seem like making a mountain out of a molehill, but the fact that The Garden of Words ends with the young male protagonist still obviously pining for his estranged teacher, a feeling which seems to be returned by the teacher herself, may bring the Mary Kay Letourneau saga to the mind of more than one viewer. The fact that the teacher is also experiencing trauma since she's been accused of having a relationship with another student the year before injects an unusually troubling subtext into this often haunting little film. The fact that the proceedings are fairly chaste is one major saving grace in this film, but there's still going to be a certain "squirm" factor for some, one way or the other.
Takao is a sweet high school kid who is a bit of a misfit, which some cynics might claim is tied to his obsession with women's shoes. But in reality, Takao is an old soul who actually wants to become a cobbler, hence his perhaps unusual interest. His home life is something of a shambles, as his father is completely absent and his mother evidently takes off on whims to be with whatever boyfriend du jour is making her feel wanted. Though Takao has an older brother there, there doesn't appear to be a wealth of familial bonding happening, and Takao tends to inhabit an interior world, as emphasized by the rather poetic voice over by the character as The Garden of Words begins.
One day Takao decides to play hooky from school and visit a scenic urban park which is awash in that day's rain. He gets to a covered pergola to sketch for a while, where he sees a somewhat older woman enjoying the rather odd combination of chocolate and beer. When Takao drops his eraser, the woman picks it up and hands it to him, beginning a rather peculiar, halting relationship which slowly but surely blossoms into something more profound. While The Garden of Words is told mostly from Takao's point of view, we slowly come to understand that the female character, Yukino, is having problems of her own, though since we don't have the benefit of interior monologues by her as we do with Takao, we find out her story a bit more slowly.
The two continue to meet on rainy days, and since it's the rainy season, that means quite a lot. A fumbling friendship is formed, though Takao soon seems to be harboring romantic feelings for this "older woman". When school starts again and the rainy season ends, Takao almost simultaneously stops seeing Yukino in the park while he's suddenly made aware of Yukino's "real" identity and her somewhat colored past. Rather than serving as a warning bell of sorts, it somehow sparks feelings of empathy and sympathy in Takao, and the two have a brief, tear laden reunionŚin the rain, of course.
There is so much to admire about The Garden of WordsŚits nicely developed characters, its streamlined brevity which nonetheless doesn't shirk on atmosphere or plot, and perhaps most of all its lovely interweaving of the environment and the people, which often plays like an adult oriented Studio Ghibli outingŚthat many will either not care or not be overly concerned with the spoiler posted above. But that facet of the story is so central to all that happens that some may find it to be a fatal flaw that deflates an otherwise remarkable enterprise. Why Shinkai couldn't have found some other way to link these two characters in The Garden of Words leaves me speechless in a figurative desert of bafflement.
The Garden of Words Blu-ray, Video Quality
The Garden of Words is presented on Blu-ray courtesy of Sentai Filmworks with an AVC encoded 1080p transfer in 1.78:1. This is quite simply a stunningly animated piece which makes the transition to high definition with flawless precision. The piece is a really winning combination of CGI and more traditional hand drawn techniques, but it offers an almost immersive visual approach that is exceedingly dimensional, an aspect which pops incredibly well on this Blu-ray. The really lovely renditions of the rainy environs of the park come through very clearly as well, with absolutely no artifacts despite a glut of parallel lines streaming down at times. Line detail is very sharp, colors are beautifully modulated and nicely saturated, and this is certainly one of the most visually sumptuous pieces we've seen from Sentai Filmworks in a long, long while.
The Garden of Words Blu-ray, Audio Quality
The Garden of Words offers lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mixes in both Japanese and English. There's no appreciable difference between these two tracks other than the obvious languages. Both of these tracks are extremely subtle at times, washing nicely rendered ambient environmental sounds (bird calls, the ripple of water, torrential downpours) through the soundfield and creating a very realistic sounding sonic world. Dialogue is clearly presented, though anchored in the front channels, as is Takao's narration. There are a few bursts of energyŚan early cut to a barreling high speed train and the likeŚbut overall, dynamic range is somewhat limited here, which really doesn't detract from this very nuanced set of mixes.
The Garden of Words Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
The Garden of Words Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Those who have either already seen The Garden of Words or who deigned to read the first paragraph above may frankly not have the same qualms that I did with the central tenet of this unusual relationship. I really feel very strongly that Shinkai undercuts his own obvious good intentions by coloring his story with this troubling aspect, when certainly other solutions that would have resulted in the same overall plot arc could have easily been found. But putting that perhaps major issue aside, there is a lot to admire about this haunting, heartfelt short film. Anyone who has ever struggled to "reach out and touch" someoneŚeven an ostensible strangerŚwill certainly relate to the underlying truths of The Garden of Words. This Blu-ray offers superior video and audio and comes with some excellent supplements. I'd normally give this an unqualified rave (as is mentioned in that troublesome first paragraph, above), but I frankly just can't quite overcome that one very troubling plot point, so this is slightly demoted to a "mere" Recommended.
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The Garden of Words Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Section23 Films / Sentai Filmworks: Four Anime Titles in August - April 25, 2013
Section23 Films, Houston-based distributor of Sentai Filmworks anime, has announced the Blu-ray releases of The Garden of Words, Shining Hearts: Complete Collection, Tsuritama: Complete Collection and Medaka Box (Season One). Section23 is releasing one title per ...
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