The Garden of Words and Lessons

NOTE: THIS ARTICLE CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR THE GARDEN OF WORDS

Hey everyone. This is turning out to be a productive week for me as it relates to anime panels and articles, as I’ve gone and re-watched Garden of Words this weekend coming off the Toradora re-watch I did last weekend. I chose to do a Garden of Words panel because I find it’s pretty easy to talk aboutwhen it comes to Shinkai’s films. Also, it’s easy to choose a specific thing to talk about in the show, because there’s so much emphasis placed on the themes and the lessons that the short movie is trying to teach it’s viewers. So let’s talk about the theme of “rain” first.

Rain

Perhaps the most prevalent part of the movie, rain played a huge role in the setting and in general. It was the reason Yukino and Takao met up at all; they both went to the gazebo on rainy days and by chance met each other there. So what’s being said with all the rain?

The first obvious thing to point out is that the song used at the end of the movie was “Rain”. Just listening to the lyrics gives a good indication of how Takao felt about Yukino. Even if they were caught in a downpour, it didn’t bother him as long as he was with her. It was an old song from the 80’s covered by a modern artist that Shinkai chose because he wanted to do it.

Of course there’s the Man’yōshū verses as well:

“A faint clap of thunder,
Clouded skies,
Perhaps rain will come.
If so, will you stay here with me?”

“A faint clap of thunder,
Even if rain comes or not,
I will stay here,
Together with you.”

Besides just being beautiful by itself, it highlights where they were at this point in the movie. Up until now they had always been waiting for rain but when Takao finds the answer to the tanka he finds her before it starts to rain. But Yukino doesn’t stay, so Takao doesn’t stay together with her.

Additionally, the rain (or water) is always present in some fashion when the two of them are together. Even when they are in the apartment, there is steam from the coffee as the rain pounds on the windows. It’s their relationship. When the rainy season starts they hang out all the time, they become closer, almost intimate. When the rain season ends, Yukino starts to lose her footing a little bit. They end up constantly looking forward to the rainy days.

Which brings up the interesting flip that Shinkai employed in this film. Rain is traditionally used in movies to symbolize something “bad” about to happen. It’s foreshadowing a death, a low point, a heartbreak. In this film however the rain brings the two characters to a different world where they can be together. THey both stay under the gazebo and feel like nothing else matters. Of course this means the Sun is “depressing” to them. They can’t see each other and have to face the realities of their own separate worlds.

But as the characters grow closer together Takao realizes that he can’t rely on the rain all the time if he wants to get closer to Yukino. Whereas Takao was in love with Yukino, she never really had those feelings for him; she was kind of just leading him on although she truly did appreciate what he did for her and of course the note at the end hints that she’ll be relying on him in the future. But she’s still learned to walk on her own, which brings me to the next topic.

Walking, Shoes, and Feet

This is equally as important if not more so than the rain idea. There is a huge amount of emphasis on walking your own path and trying to reach your dreams. Takao seems to know how to do this; despite his awkward family situation he works part time to save money for school to go to his dream job of being a cobbler. He doesn’t do well at school but he spends so much time in working to get to where he wants to be, even though he’s so young.

Meanwhile Yukino seems to, at first, be completely lazy when it comes to going to work. We find out later that it’s not that she doesn’t want to go, it’s that she gets harassed for going because of something she hardly had any control over. But because she’s conflicted she doesn’t know what she’s supposed to do. She tries constantly to go to work but either can’t or ends up not wanting to during the rainy days.

So what happens then? Takao has to help Yukino walk on her own, figuratively (almost literally as well). The idea of him making the shoes for her reinforces this. Takao shows Yukino that he has his life together and inspires her to do the same. Just watching Takao work so hard at his goals both makes the viewer inspired to work towards their own goals and inspired Yukino to make her own path.

She finally is able to do this at the end, though in a rather harsh way. Takao thinks she loves him and confesses but she reminds him that she’s a teacher as her response. She tells him that she doesn’t need shoes to walk on her own. She’s indirectly telling him that she can do it by herself, she doesn’t need someone else. This leads to the final scene where she runs barefoot out of the apartment, without putting any shoes on. She trips and falls but ultimately ends up embracing Takao and being open with herself and him as the sun shines on her face for the first time in the whole movie.

At the end they both realize that while they supported and grew off of one another, they belong to different worlds and the gazebo was a world that “shouldn’t have existed”. So they learn to walk their own paths with the possibility that they’ll meet  again.

Age vs Maturity

So we’re given the information that Takao is 15 years old. But from how he carries himself and all the responsibilities he shoulders it’s probably a surprise to a lot of people that he’s only 15 years old. Meanwhile Yukino is 27 years old but by her own self admission she feels like she hasn’t gotten any smarter than she was at 15. She’s also clumsy and a bit messy.

Moreover Takao knows exactly what he wants out of life and has a clear set goal he’s working towards which is seen as very mature especially for someone of Takao’s age. With Yukino, she either doesn’t know what she wants to do or has lost track of it; there’s hints that she has a love of classic literature  but since she was “bullied” out of school she can’t teach and therefore doesn’t know what she should do.

Possibly most important is that Yukino is in an “unhealthy” state of mind. Important to note, she’s the “only” unhealthy character. She only eats chocolate and beer because of her eating disorder and she keeps everything to herself making it seem like she’s got an air of mystery about her when in reality she’s falling apart when she’s alone. There’s allusions to her disregard for her own life; not quite to the point of suicide but definitely enough for it to be destructive.

But the self reflection helps her. She makes the mature decision of moving to a different place to try to practice walking on her own again. She doesn’t do it at Takao’s suggestion, she does this because she decided to do it herself. This makes Takao upset and he tries to state that he hates her while revealing once again that he really does care about her. And she shows how important he was to her.

Takao has his own problems with age though. He’s mature and is seen as an inspiration for viewers who may be near his age, or anyone who has a goal they need to work to achieve. However he hates the fact that he’s 15 and thus considered a “kid”. Even with Yukino, he was afraid that she would tell him that his goal was stupid and that he should give up. He was entranced by her because she was mysterious and everything he thought an adult should be. Yet he probably never would have told her any of those things had he known she was a teacher from the beginning.

Loneliness

Something I took note of during the commentary of the movie is that Shinkai placed a small amount of emphasis on “loneliness” or being alone. He made a point to note that being alone wasn’t a bad thing and that shouldn’t be the message of the movie. There is importance in being alone once in a while, to work through the issues you need to work through to learn how to walk by yourself. Takao, after the rainy season, does just that. He misses Yukino. He’s alone. But he keeps walking his own path.

Meanwhile when Yukino is alone everything just snowballs on her. The big foundation of her problem is stewing inside of her because she doesn’t try to address it and she finally cries when her makeup foundation breaks in the morning. But the important part comes when she realizes that she has to move and learn to walk on her own, now that Takao has helped to show her how.

The thing Mr. Shinkai wanted to address was that while it’s okay to be alone it’s equally important to have social bonds because you can’t do everything yourself. People can help you with your problems and you an help yourself. Sometimes you need both of these things in order to get through everything that is haunting you. It doesn’t matter how old you are, you can always learn how to walk again.

Conclusion

This is really a beautiful movie from the artwork to the lessons learned. It’s only passed for me personally by 5 Centimeters Per Second which I hope to write about in the future as well. It features wonderful voice acting and complex personal issues which build extremely interesting characters to watch. Shinkai himself stated in the commentary that solely because Takao likes to make shoes, he’s easier to sympathize with than some of Shinkai’s other protagonists.

There’s a lot of beautiful stuff packed in these 48 minutes. It makes me happy that Shinkai is able to keep making films and I can’t wait to see what he teaches us in his next movie. Thanks for reading.

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5 thoughts on “The Garden of Words and Lessons

  1. Found this essay while looking through the reddit rewatch thread a while ago. I liked the analysis of shoes as a metaphor for the path we walk and the whole essay overall. There are some grammar errors that you could fix. Did you end up writing an essay for Five Centimeters per Second? I’d love to read it!

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