A Brief Repose in the Garden of Words

makoto shinkai, the garden of words, kotonoha no niwa, is it too late for me?, yukari yukino

“Maybe it’s fitting…

‘A faint clap of thunder
Clouded skies
Perhaps rain comes
If so, will you stay here with me?'”

-Yukari Yukino, The Garden of Words

Occasionally, your own words aren’t enough.

The title of The Garden of Words is certainly apropos for Makoto Shinkai’s latest offering, in spite of the scarce number of words spoken aloud. Instead, it communicates the majority of its incredible poignancy through visual and aural direction.

With an absence of chatter and verbal noise, the movie punctuates each and every line clearly. Where a majority of properties rely on dialogue, with visuals placed in a secondary position to communicate the overall narrative, The Garden of Words allows its visuals to do the heavy lifting, shifting dialogue to a decidedly supporting role.

This lack of dialogue makes the words that are spoken all the more potent. Their placement is deliberate, and sometimes labored. Yukari’s initial parting words to Takao, the poem quoted above, purposefully hand him the key to unlocking her identity. More importantly, they are not her own words. Instead, Yukari chooses the words of a classic Japanese tanka. Contrary to the words she speaks aloud to Takao upon his uncovering her profession, her choice of poem not only speaks to her emotional state but perhaps a secret longing that, all this time, she was reaching out to him, waiting to be discovered.

“Hey…do you think it’s too late for me?”

-Yukari Yukino, The Garden of Words

It was easy for me to identify with Yukari due to surface characteristics. Her steady diet of chocolate – the series gives a reason for this, while I personally have no excuse – and her age both resonated with me, as did her longing to escape from her current job. However, it was these words, spoken aloud as she watches Takao peacefully dream, that struck me.

These words, her own, frame the entirety of the film. As an older, unattached woman obviously longing to escape her current state, Yukari reaches out to both Takao and myself. Until recently, I was asking myself the same question. Sometimes, on my worst days, it still creeps into the back of my mind, “Is it too late for me?” I’m not young anymore. I haven’t used my primary degree. I work far too hard at a job that I don’t want to be my career. I haven’t really done anything that could be considered a success. 

Even in that creeping darkness, I now know that the answer is a resounding, “No.” I can move. I can change my career. I can go back to school and get my secondary degree. I can continue painting. I can decide to pick up the violin tomorrow, with no prior experience, bungle my way through it, and still have the time of my life. It is cliché, cheesy, but no less meaningful to realize that it’s not too late for most things. I didn’t need The Garden of Words to speak that for me, but it was wonderful to see these feelings encapsulated so beautifully.

This isn’t a movie that will speak to everyone; however, for those whom it does, much like the character of Yukino, perhaps it will give them the words to frame such feelings, whether they are their own or the words of others.

Thank you.

15 comments

  1. My one gripe regarding this movie was that the themes felt a little too simple. I love the execution and animation (which I found much better than 5cm and Places) and it’s really the only thing Shinkai has made that I love, but when compared to some other anime romances that I love, it’s a little disappointing.

    1. I disagree completely. I believe, reinforced through the visuals, this film was the perfect distillation of the feelings it attempted to convey to its audience. I agree that it’s simple, but I personally love it for that, and the message of hope that buoys both characters by the end is all the better stated due to its straightforward nature. ^ ^

      However, we can reach a common ground in that we both love this film above all of Shinkai’s other works.

      Thanks for the comment.

  2. I understand you and I totally understand Yukino, especially since she’s a teacher – though she seems to love it, and I… not so much. It’s never too late to do things for yourself, indeed.

    But about the success part you mentioned, unless someone dreams of something tangible or glamorous, I believe that as long you talk to people about things that matter, you may have mini successes here and there. Like for example, I talked with an ex-collegue from university and she told me how I changed her conservative views about homosexuality. I was honestly so very happy that I was able to make things better even a single person at a time. Doing small things you love is also a success. You may not get a special prize for writing such wonderful posts, but don’t you get partially self-satisfaction about your intellectual and writing skills after you finish certain posts and much more when you get comments? – That said I’m not trying to pass a judgement or to underestimate your own feelings. I just want to point out that even in times we believe we are worthless, that’s totally not true.

    Keep walking and I wish you all the best on the new paths you wanna follow🙂

    1. Ah…this comment gave me the warm fuzzies. ^ ^

      It’s often difficult to recognize successes in our own lives, especially when they are framed by the expectations of whatever society we happen to be living in. I love your real-life example of a success in your life, and hope that I can somehow affect others to at least share with me the things that they love. That’s pretty much what I want this blog to be about. ^ ^

      Thank you so much for this comment. I wish you nothing but the best as well.

  3. I just watched this movie and your review puts it into perspective. While I wish it was longer, it was still a very touching and inspiring movie. I’ll enjoy it much more the second time.

    To me it looks like they write to each other. The last scene shows a letter from her to him. Compared to his other movies, Shinkai has embraced more closure to his endings where the romance is hopeful.

    1. Awww…thank you. ^ ^ It was an incredibly affecting movie for me personally so that means a lot.

      I think they do write each other, but I like that the movie leaves it open-ended. They’re both continuing down separate paths to make themselves stronger people individually, spurred by the support they receive from one another from a distance. It is a lot different from his previous movies, where distance, whether time or actual physical distance, was directly a hindrance to a relationship. Garden of Words seems to develop around the idea that they can still inspire each other even if they’re not physically present around one another.

      Thank you for the comment. ^ ^

  4. There’s something about your writing that rings true and hits the heart. I found your blog after watching “Garden of Words” and since then have subscribed. You certainly have a way with words that is engaging and immediately connects with the reader. I hope you continue to write…

    1. Ah…thank you very much! ^ ^

      I love writing, so this blog is mainly to continue doing just that while also trying to improve. Additionally, I tend to write only about things that pique my interest and/or move me emotionally in some way, which hopefully lends itself to making communication with the reader a bit easier for me.

      Either way, thank you so much for the compliment, it means a lot.

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