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Warning: this article has spoilers. You can watch Garden of Words and come back later, or choose another article to read instead.
Not so long ago (in the year 2013, to be exact), a short movie made a surprising appearance in the anime realm. With its 45 minutes of length, it conveyed a great love story that conquered our otaku hearts. The name of such movie is Kotonoha no niwa, better known in English as Garden of Words. Written and directed by Makoto Shinkai, this little piece of art won several domestic prices in Japan. Some consider it one of the most beautiful animes of all time! Of course, it has been appreciated in other countries too.
Garden of Words centers around the relationship between the two protagonists: Takao and Yukari. And yes, we definitely have a charming love story here. But it is not what we could expect from more mainstream anime. Takao and Yukari’s relationship is not explicit, but as subtle as the gorgeous surroundings Shinkai puts around them. The story of these two is as unique and pure as a modern fairy tale. But let’s see in detail the reasons why Takao and Yukari are an unforgettable couple.
1. Because Takao is a serious teenager
The first protagonist of Garden of Words is Takao Akizuki, a 15 year old guy with all the marks of the normal Highschool student. However he dreams of becoming a shoe maker. For a Japanese student, this is an unusual career choice, right? That is partly why Takao is not very dedicated to school. We actually meet Takao when he decides to go to a peaceful place to sketch shoes instead of attending class.
At first we are tempted to believe Takao is rebellious and spoiled, but as the movie progresses, we notice a pattern. When Takao wants something, he goes after it. He practices shoe making in a patient but constant way. This is reflected in his room, which, although tiny, has a corner dedicated to sketches and tools. Also, in the school scenes, Takao is observant of his surroundings and peers. In short, the guy is a serious teenager.
2. Because Yukari is a mysterious adult
So, when Takao reaches the garden where he plans to sketch shoes, he finds a woman sitting in a covered bench while it rains. Yukari Yukino (the name of the woman) is drinking beer and eating chocolate while wearing formal wear. This is at the time when adults are supposed to work, so the encounter is a little bit odd. Besides that, Yukari recites some peculiar words before leaving the place with a whimsical smile. Just what was that?
If you have never been in love, you might not know that such feelings can be awakened all of a sudden. There is no rational explanation for it. Apparently, Takao found Yukari charming enough to be curious about her. The rainy atmosphere must have helped a little, right? You have noticed that vision is not very clear when it rains, right? In sum, Yukari is a fascinating mystery for Takao, who becomes determined to know about her identity.
3. Because of their sweet encounters in the park
Actually, the garden where Takao and Yukari meet is a real Japanese style garden. It is called Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden and it is located in Shinjuku, Tokyo. The traditional style of such gardens is structured in a way that most of “the outside” environment is hidden from view. Makoto Shinkai stated that the production team filmed real life scenes in the garden as reference for the movie backgrounds. That is how the garden also becomes a character that links the couple together. Thus, Takao and Yukari have the perfect hideout in lush surroundings.
Nope, we don’t have passionate kisses. We don’t even have much of touching in Garden of Words. What we get is daily life actions and a few key conversations. Words are very important in this story, especially when Takao finds the ancient poem that answers Yukari’s cryptic words. And how about when he tells her that he wants to make shoes for her? As a craftsman, this is the epitome of Takao’s love symbolism. Everything Yukari and Takao say to each other rings as natural and pure as the rain that falls around them.
4. Because they matured together
The big part of the Garden of Words is that two individuals who apparently have nothing in common, find harmony in each others company. We can see both are at different crossroads. Takao is on his final years in high school, a time when he has to decide which career to pursue. We can only imagine how much experience Takao has in love matters, because apparently, Yukari is his first love. Thus, as a craftsman, his efforts in making a pair of shoes worthy of Yukari can be interpreted as a coming of age action. This is Takao’s entrance into adulthood.
As for Yukari, she has been bullied at her work place and is so depressed that she cannot find the will to move forward with her life. When we see Yukari’s apartment the first time, we notice it is a mess. But as Yukari’s encounters with Takao at the park become more frequent, we notice a little bit of order entering in her life. It even reaches a point where, when Takao visits her apartment, it is neat enough for them to cook and pass some time together.
Going back a little bit with the story, when Takao finds out that she is a literature teacher at his school, he is shocked at first. But when another student makes malicious comments about Yukari, Takao stands up for her. This is a stark contrast with the verbal support she receives from a fellow teacher by telephone. The only person we see openly defending Yukari, is none other than Takao. This also shows that he is maturing thanks to her.
Nevertheless, the climax of their time together is when Takao confesses to her and she rejects him. He leaves Yukari’s apartment but she runs to reach him. Then, in the middle of the storm, Takao recriminates Yukari for her cowardry and lack of openness. Yukari accepts that her attitude was wrong and that Takao showed her that. After that… no more rain. Takao and Yukari now fully understand each other. They helped each other to mature!
5. Because their story was left in suspense
So everything is nice and well in this movie until this point, right? Well, in the end we see Yukari transfer to another school, where she continues her teaching career. Takao barely pass his university entrance exams but keeps making shoes. The couple keeps in touch with each other through the winter. By spring, Takao finishes a pair of shoes for Yukino and leaves it at the garden, while he vows to go to look for her someday.
The end for the story was fitting, as Garden of Words can be interpreted in several ways. People who are more oriented towards society values might be tempted to say this was a fleeting love story, a nice coming of age that would be left as a warm memory. Meanwhile, people who believe love conquers all would like to toy with the idea that Takao and Yukari eventually got together. Either way, most fans would be pleased, as they can create their own ending.
If Makoto Shinkai is trying to bring fame for himself, that is because he is a genius storyteller. He also is a master craftsman, who takes care of every detail of his movies. Was Makoto Shinkai projecting himself in Takao? That gives food for thought, don’t you think? Anyway, with Garden of Words, Shinkai wanted to create a love story that would be as understandable as possible for most of the people. At first, he even wanted to release it online, as it was so short! Makoto Shinkai was even thinking about non-otaku viewers.
It’s no surprise that Shinkai thought about Takao and Yukari’s relationship carefully. Some teenagers are more mature than we give them credit for, while some adults are less mature than we might imagine. In the end, we are all human. We have our good points and bad points. When we are experimenting lows in life, it is nice to make a pause and find a quiet garden. Maybe there is a surprise awaiting for us there in the form of a charming person who can make us company while the rainy weather goes away. Don’t you think the same? 🙂
Which was your favorite scene with Takao and Yukari? How do you imagine the end of their story? Would you like a second part for their story? Don’t forget that we are open to all your comments. See you soon!