The Garden of Words – Blu-ray Review

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Review by: Felicia Day

Publisher: FUNimation Entertainment
MSRP: $34.98 US (Blu-ray)/$24.98 US (DVD)
Running Time: 46 minutes
Genre: Drama
Rating: TV 14
Release Date: August 6, 2013

As the first cold drops of rain drizzle over the lush green gardens two very different people take notice of each another under the cover of the same roof. Both take an interest in each another and despite their difference in age, a relationship will be born mainly out of the fact that both seem to be stuck by the obstacles that life places in one’s path. Welcome to The Garden of Words, where these two souls might just help each another get back on the right path.

Those familiar with director Makoto Shinkai knows that he excels in telling a story about characters living in two different worlds – the real one and the one of their own making and The Garden of Words is no different. In this feature film, we are introduced to a high school student named Takao Akizuki who lives in the Kanto region. Getting off at the Shinjuku Station, however, the boy notices the first drops of rain announces the rainy season in the area so instead of going to school he heads to the gorgeous and seemingly lonely gardens that make up the region’s biggest park.

Takao isn’t just ditching class but rather using the time away from school to sketch shoe designs in his notebook. You see, Takao aspires to design ladies shoes – a dream he wishes to make a reality one day despite the fact that he doesn’t have the support of his older brother or his always-absent mother. So on that particularly rainy day, he finds a covered bench area where he sees a beautiful older woman sitting on the opposite bench drinking beer and eating chocolate.

Her name is Yukari Yukino and her very presence seems to haunt Takao who believes this lovely woman in her late-twenties seems to be running away from something. She also seems familiar to him, although he doesn’t know where exactly but this begins a conversation between the two. While Takao doesn’t find out much about her, Yukino discovers that he only skips class on rainy days, which will are plentiful during this season.

So the two start meeting in the same spot as the rain pelts the garden. Takao shares with Yukari his dream of designing shoes and the young woman even poses for him as the young man finally feels that somebody has taken an interest in his life’s goal. However, despite the fact that Takao has shared an intimate part of his life, Yukino has yet to reveal why she is avoiding going to work and why she is drowning her worries with beer and chocolate.

Suddenly, the rainy season comes to an end and Takao gets wrapped up in the summer’s offering of work and his studies. Since it stopped raining he doesn’t show up at the garden where Yukino continues to hang out. Despite the fact that he is living an active life, Takao feels the sting of loneliness that Yukari is feeling. Even when they’re not together the pair thinks about the other … even more so with Takao who makes use of an expensive book that Yukino has given him as a gift.

It isn’t until he goes back to school that Takao makes a shocking discovery about the identity of Yukari Yukino as well as finds out why she had been avoiding work since he had met her. This discovery leads to a dramatic turn of events that will either destroy them both or make them realize that there is hope for them both.

The Garden of Words goes for a big emotional finale that speaks volumes about the human condition. Sometimes it’s the most unlikely of people that could help you move on and sometimes it’s that quirky individual who drinks beer and chocolate in a park that could help inspire you to pursue your life’s ambition.

Then there’s the relationship between Takao and Yukari itself that will raise some eyebrows. Although she doesn’t cross the line between acquaintance and lover (or perhaps she does after one key scene but that’s for the viewer to decide), you can’t help but feel that the spark between the pair is romantic enough to seem inappropriate if but for the age difference. Sure, Takao is the most mature 15-year old you’ll meet but Yukari is in her mid-twenties.

Secondly, there’s the garden itself, which a feature in the extras points out was inspired by the Shijuko Gyoen National Park, that is like another character. The garden itself represents another world that Takao and Yukari share in order to escape the real world. It is in that garden that Takao can concentrate on his dream. It is in the lush green haven that Yukari doesn’t have to deal with an ex-boyfriend or the stressful situation that arose in her job.

Makoto Shinkai is a master at telling a story using a character’s expressions rather than filling his work with an abundance of dialogue. There are scenes that say a lot about the characters and their world with the subtle use of background noise (in this case the rain) and the beautiful piano score. Then there’s the animation that, thanks to some very talented animators and Hiroshi Tukituki (who serves as Art Director), is actually quite stunning. I’ve seen the DVD version and loved it but you really do have to see this on Blu-ray to truly appreciate the animation.

On top of that masterful score, there’s the voice acting that is quite stellar if you prefer the original Japanese language track. I think Miyu Irino (as Takao) and Kana Honiara (as Yukari) are absolutely brilliant in their portrayal of these two character but I cannot possibly dismiss the fact that Maggie Flecknoe managed to pull off an unforgettable performance in the English dub in a cast that includes Patrick Poole, Hilary Haag, Brittany Karbowski and Blake Shepard just to name a few.

The Garden of Words is a beautifully told and richly emotional story that finds two very different people finding each another and, in turn, learns to confront the things that are holding them back from happiness. That said, however, the story also has a familiar seen-this-before-way-too-many-times vibe to it as well as awkward romantic tension between the characters that will seem completely inappropriate considering the age differences between the two characters. In the end, however, you cannot ignore the fact that The Garden of Words will not fail to draw you into its world from the very start down to its emotional finale.


BLU-RAY REVIEW BREAKDOWN

MOVIE/EPISODES: B+
A rainy day in the Kanto region’s most beautiful garden brings together two very different souls. One is a high school student who aspires to be a shoe designer and the other is an older woman who is escaping from her job. Together they build a relationship that might just set them on the right path to happiness or to something else altogether.

VIDEO QUALITY: A+
Without a doubt, the Blu-ray version is quite simply the best way to enjoy this visually stunning feature film. Like most Makoto Shinkai films, the setting itself is like a living, breathing character and sometimes more is said with a single glance than with a short line of dialogue.

AUDIO QUALITY: A-
Personally speaking, the original Japanese voice cast makes for a perfect viewing experience but it is impossible to ignore Maggie Flecknoe’s breath-taking performance as Yukari that matches that of Kana Hanazawa’s stellar voice acting. On top of that, the score by KASHIWA Daisuke is beautiful and so is the ending theme song, “Rain.”

EXTRAS: B+
You’ll find the original Japanese trailer for the film in the extras feature as well as a number of Sentai Filmworks’ trailers for their Blu-ray releases. You’ll even find a feature called The Works of Makoto Shinkai that includes a list of his animated features such as “The Place Promised in our Early Days” just to name a few.

Also includes is an extended version of the Interviews feature that includes interviews with the crew as well as members of the Japanese cast like Hanazawa and Miyu Irino who voices Takao. Then there’s the English Production Stills with pictures of the English dub voice cast at work in a booth decorated to simulate the garden and rain. Finally, there’s Story Boards that allows you to see the film through its storyboard artwork.

OVERALL: B+
While you can’t help but feel like you’ve seen this kind of story before, The Garden of Words sets itself apart with its stunning animation and character-driven drama that makes this a moving tale about salvation. Sure, there are romantic elements that feel inappropriate at times but it is overshadowed by its scenes of two people who inspires each another to move forward.

Review copy provided by Sentai Filmworks

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