A short Japanese anime film about an unlikely relationship between a teenage boy and an older woman, The Garden of Words (2013, dir. Makoto Shinkai) is quite a charming little film. One rainy morning, Takao decides to skip school and go for a walk through the park to enjoy the weather. When wandering through the park, he spies an older woman drinking beer and eating junk food in a gazebo. He goes to sit near her to take a rest and sketch some shoes, as he hopes to become a shoemaker in future. After this day, Takao and the mystery woman meet each other in the gazebo, but only on rainy mornings, and they find a common bond with one another. We watch as their relationship develops over the seasons.
I heard about The Garden of Words from the amazing Baked Movie Reviews (one of my faves), who warned that it got weird fast, and I have to agree. There is indeed something weird about a fifteen year old high school boy sitting and sketching shoes in a park, and (spoiler) eventually getting to touch a relative stranger’s feet; a woman who is clearly in her late twenties, who chugs beer in a public park in the morning. When you combine the age difference plus the borderline foot fetish aspect, it can get a bit weird. But there’s something sweet and innocent about this film that prevents it from seeming too creepy, and there are significant histories of each character which explain the characters’ respective shoe obsession and AM beer-swilling. There are no overtly sexual connotations that would make the film immediately reprehensible. But once you look past the idealistic outer layer of the film, the story just seems a bit… strange.
The animation in this is absolutely sublime, though. Any of the scenes at the park are just gorgeous, and the city landscape of Tokyo is rendered so beautifully as well. There’s one particular shot of a tree’s hanging branch lightly touching the surface of a lake, which sticks out as my highlight in terms of the beautiful animation, and which we get to see change as the seasons progress. Whilst the animation of the humans is more simple and isn’t as impressive in contrast to their environment, it’s forgivable because of how lovely everything else is. The beautiful scenery makes me want to visit Tokyo post haste. In combination with the visuals, the music is also wonderful – expressive piano music which sounds like rain falling on puddles.
I liked this short film because it was simple. The characters’ motivations (which, as aforementioned, can be weird) are simple to understand, and the story is straightforward, with some nice moments after the credits that add to the overall film. Whilst it’s not my favourite animation of all time, and I did get a bit weirded out, ultimately The Garden of Words was a nice film with some good character development that made its 46 minute duration seem like it had a lot more content than it actually did. Whilst it can stray into typical cliche romantic anime story towards the end, this was a film with a strange premise that eventually manages to get into its viewers’ hearts. But if you don’t like looking at feet, this definitely isn’t for you.
Watch the (oddly foot-centric) trailer here.