The Garden of Words - World Premiereby Luke Carroll, Apr 30th 2013
For the last week and a half the Gold Coast Film Festival has been lighting up the Pacific Fair cinemas daily with an array of Queensland and Australian premieres for films of all genres. However to finish off the festival a very special world premiere was organised. The film being shown was none other than Makoto Shinkai's latest creation, The Garden of Words. With a near capacity crowd of fans turning out to see the recently finished production, Shinkai himself was also amazingly on hand to greet and share the experience of his eagerly awaiting masterpiece with everyone.
The film itself starts out in traditional Shinkai tradition showcasing some visually impressive and detailed background art. Set in modern Tokyo, The Garden of Words primarily follows the life of 15 year old Takao, an everyday high school student who believes that his future is not an academic one choosing instead to spend any free time he has practising for his dream of become a shoemaker. It's a rather less than believable plot idea at the best of times, but it works well in giving the story some glue to hold everything together.
Of course Takao also has an extra quirk about him that's essential for this tale. You see, whenever it rains in the morning Takao decides to skip the first period at school and heads to the local Japanese Garden instead to work on sketching his shoe ideas. It is here one raining morning that he spots a woman reading by herself under the shelter he uses. As it turns out, she also has a similar quirk about herself, but instead of school, it is work she skips when the weather turns sour. Things start off quite pedestrian as you would expect but then Takao spots her there the next time it rains, and the next, and so forth (it is monsoon season by the way).
By the time the weather begins to dry up though, the two have certainly broken the ice between them, Takao has agreed to make the woman Yukari a pair of shoes and we begin to see the pair grow closer and closer as they look forward to the rain more than the sunlight. It is here you begin to see the story attempting to show their love in the tradition Japanese meaning of 'koi', that is to long for someone in solitude. It's certainly a more mature and adult approach, however with Yukari being 12 years his senior, anything sexual is certainly morally out of the question to begin with.
I'd delve further into the story and the character's pasts but unfortunately we made a 'pinky promise' with Shinkai not to reveal the major plot points, and I know I'd accidentally spell it out if I keep going. Rest assured that many of you would figure out the points long before hand anyway. This is still a very traditional Shinkai film after all.
Visually The Garden of Words looked great on the big screen. As I mentioned at the start, the film has some wonderfully designed backdrops full of detail. The character designs share a simpler approach, but they manage to suit the film well. As with any animation, there are always a couple of issues that fans will certainly pick up on during the film. The most noticeable of them however is the character outlining around shadows that appear as either a light brown or a light green colour. This was a new visual technique Shinkai was trying to use, however there isn't a lot done to blend it all together so at times it can look quite protruding on the characters.
Overall, my biggest disappointment with The Garden of Words was the length. At 46 minutes long, the film really only begins to stretch itself out before the credits suddenly roll. It certainly took me and the patrons in my row by surprise when it happened. But of course, if being drawn in to a film so much that the ending catches you off guard is the biggest problem you certainly must have one enjoyable experience on your hands. Whilst it doesn't break any new grounds, The Garden of Words is certainly a visual treat and an enjoyable film in its own right. Needless to say, if you're a fan of Makoto Shinkai's previous works this one is certainly up there with his best.
Ed's Note: Luke also managed to interview The Garden of Words' Director, Makoto Shinkai, you can read the interview here.