It should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with the work of Naoko Yamada that flowers and flower language have their place in her latest film: Liz and the Blue Bird. For Yamada, flowers take the place of things left unsaid when people are unable to express their feelings for each other due to a physical disability (A Silent Voice), mental illnesses or internal fear (also A Silent Voice), societal expectations (her episode of Violet Evergarden), or myriad other reasons. When important context goes unsaid, Yamada frequently turns to flower language to do the emotional heavy lifting.
Her usage of flowers in Liz and the Blue Bird has a defter touch than A Silent Voice and Violet Evergarden‘s camellia princess. Many things go unsaid or unspoken between leads Mizore Yoroizuka and Nozomi Kasaki and Yamada wisely uses what unites them — music — to express most of them. Flowers create a secondary, background context, featured more prominently in the Liz and the Blue Bird storybook — used as another framing device for Mizore and Nozomi’s relationship — with a few flashes to real-life flowers at key moments between the two.
This isn’t a confession or revelation or even a caveat to couch my words. It’s just a statement to preface talking about Violet Evergarden, since I’m still unsure as to how much I actually enjoyed the series. In some moments, I think back on how pretty it was. In other moments I think of narrative gaps and melodrama. If I’m comparing Kyoto Animation series of 2018, Tsurune has already been more emotionally resonant than Violet Evergarden ever was, and it’s not even finished yet with a few production issues.
I was never invested in Violet herself — which is probably why the episodes dedicated to her backstory seemed so sluggish and boring — but I loved the stories of the people she helped, either directly or indirectly, through letter-writing. This series was a test of how much I value aesthetics and animation even when the central storyline doesn’t interest me personally.
In the series’ fifth episode, we see floral messages put into literal action through Naoko Yamada’s storyboards. Yamada previously employed floriography as another, unspoken form of communication throughout the film A Silent Voice. In her episode of Violet Evergarden, flowers are exchanged along with love letters between the heads of two kingdoms. Each kingdom is also represented by a specific flower.
“While I was location-hunting in Gifu I started wondering what Shoya was like at that point: a kid who feels invincible but also deals with perhaps unfounded frustration. This song appeared in my mind with a bang.”
Naoko Yamada makes many precise directorial choices in her film adaptation of A Silent Voice, including but not limited to the use of flower language and other non-verbal forms of communication to form emotional snapshots of the lead characters.
The most polarizing choice was her insistence that the film lead off with The Who’s “My Generation.” This naturally created a licensing nightmare, for which Yamada took full responsibility according to multiple interviews prior to the film’s release. “My Generation” also became the primary citation of the movie’s detractors, who said that the use of the song indicated a misunderstanding of the original manga’s meaning.
“People who know flower language will be able to interpret each one’s message and that’s great, but I made it so that even if you don’t you can feel something because of the shot’s layout or the flower’s color. I’m happy to let that audience have their own interpretation.”
–A Silent Voice director Naoko Yamada on the usage of flowers in her film