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After that grating, obnoxious, and horrible heap of a movie that I previously reviewed, Cool World, it always makes me glad when I get to see something good. Sure, seeing the bad will help improve one’s filmmaking skills and make sure it doesn’t happen again, but sometimes, I just want to watch something that is interesting and something that resonates with me. After watching what the Hollywood entertainment system thinks we like to watch, it’s good to revel in something that at least made you think and be engaged. I just so happened to find a short film that has what I am looking for. Today’s review is of the short film, The Garden of Words. This 48-minute short film was distributed by Toho, and animated by CoMix Wave Films. It was directed by Makoto Shinkai. If Makoto Shinkai sounds familiar, then you have probably seen his films before, since CoMix Wave Films and Makoto have made such well-received films as Voices of a Distant Star, and other films like The Place Promised in Our Early Days, 5 Centimeters Per Second, and Children Who Chase Lost Voices. So, what do I think about this short film? Well, let’s dive in and get started then, shall we?
The Garden of Words centers two humans. The first is a 15-year old male named Takao Akizuki, voiced by Blake Shepard. On a rainy day, he cuts class to go sit in a pavilion in a park to draw shoe designs in his sketch book. One day, he meets an older woman named Yukari Yukino, voiced by Shelley Calene-Black. After a while, they create a bond between one another as friends until they realize that they may have known each other in more ways than one.
So, what is great about this short film? Well, what this film downright immerses you with is its atmosphere. By golly, this film just pulls you into its quiet, wet world. A lot of the time, there is no music or background score playing, and all you hear are the sounds from the areas around the main characters. The many rainy scenes are something right out of a yoga or meditation CD. It also helps that the film is beautifully animated, and while the character designs are, in my opinion, okay, everything else looks amazing. I have read where some people had a problem with how this film was presented and animated, but to me, I wasn’t distracted. While I have some problems with the personalities of the two main characters, I do like the relationship between them. Sometimes, all you need to find is a kindred soul that you can talk to/relate to. Another element that helps pull you into the movie is the beautiful piano score. It’s just gorgeous music to listen to. If you are curious about who wrote the music, it was Daisuke Kashiwa.
With all that said, this film does have problems. The two biggest problems are the character themselves and the running time. The two characters the film follows are not really that interesting, personality-wise. Granted, they are both suffering some form of depression, and you could argue that people display depression in different ways, but I blame the running time for the weak characters. I mean, it’s not like the characters have no personality or interesting things about them, like how the male is a hard worker. But, if the film was a bit longer than 46 minutes, I think we could have gotten more breathing room with the two leads, instead of multiple montages set to the beautiful scenery and musical score. This short film is based off a one-issue manga, but it doesn’t mean they couldn’t flesh things out more. For example, besides the two leads, who are likable in their own ways, everyone else feels petty and mean-spirited. A lot of this comes from the twist in the film, but I don’t want to spoil it for anyone who may have not seen this short yet. Of course, they could just get curious and look up the plot on Wikipedia. I also found the ending to be rushed and overly dramatic. Not that there isn’t some kind of corny enjoyment out of it, but again, a longer running time and a better-paced ending could have fixed so many problems the short film has.
Overall, after a couple of viewings, I ended up really liking The Garden of Words. I still think Makoto Shinkai could have fixed a few problems, but when he really hits the nail on the head, he is truly one of the best talents that Japanese animation can offer. The film itself is about $20, but if you can find it for cheaper, I would definitely recommend it. It has its issues, but it’s one of the more beautiful and atmospheric movies that I have ever seen. Well, we have seen what good Japanese animation can give us, let’s see what the worst of Japanese animation can give us with OVA, Cybernetics Guardian. Thanks for reading, and see you next time!
Rating: Go See It!