The Garden Of Words Anime DVD Review

The Garden Of Words Anime DVD Review A beautiful, subtle movie.

What They Say:
When Takao, a young high school student who dreams of becoming a shoe designer, decides to skip school one day in favor of sketching in a rainy garden, he has no idea how much his life will change when he encounters Yukino. Older, but perhaps not as much wiser, she seems adrift in the world, and despite the difference in their ages, they strike up an unusual relationship that unexpectedly continues and evolves, without planning, with random meetings that always occur in the same garden on each rainy day. But the rainy season is coming to a close, and there are so many things still left unsaid and undone between them. Will there be time for Takao to put his feelings into actions and words? Between the raindrops, between the calms in the storm, what will blossom in THE GARDEN OF WORDS?

The Review:
Audio:
The movie contains two language tracks: English and Japanese in 5.1 Dolby Digital. English subtitles are also provided. For my viewing I played the English language track. The sound quality was excellent, if a little quiet at times. I was able to hear the subtleties of the dialogue, and the sound effects—mainly the sound of rain—came through quite well. Overall it was very well done.

Video:
The movie is presented in 16:9 aspect ratio and the overall quality is breathtaking. This is a beautiful-looking movie. The colors are vibrant, the small details clearly visible, and the entire production is a joy to watch.

Packaging:
The front cover is entirely taken up by a scene from the movie. Takao and Yukino sit in a shelter in the park while rain falls all around them. The trees surrounding them are lush and green and golden sunlight shines in from the upper right-hand corner. Yukino has her right foot up on the bench and Takao is tracing it in his notebook. The title is written above them in white font tinged with green and at the very top it reads “The new animated masterpiece by Makoto Shinkai.”The logos for CoMix Wave and Sentai Filmworks rest in the lower right-hand corner.

The spine is halved into two sections. The top half is plain white with the movie’s title in green font. The lower half features Yukino and Takao standing side by side with Yukino occluding most of Takao’s body.

The top portion of the back cover features another scene from the movie. Takao and Yukino sit in their shelter on opposite ends of an “L” shaped bench. He is sketching in his notebook while she drinks beer and eats chocolate. Four screen shots line the bottom of the scene and beneath that is the movie’s synopsis. The final third of the case is taken up by the technical specifications and cast information.

Moving on to the inside, the main DVD is housed in an insert while a second DVD containing the special features is embedded in the back cover.

Overall it’s a very nice package that features beautiful art. If I could, I would love to get a poster of the scene on the front cover. The colors, the use of light, and the composition of the picture make for something that I could look at again and again.

Menu:
The menu screen on the main feature disk contains the same image as on the DVD case’s cover, only zoomed in on Takao and Yukino. The title rests in the upper left-hand corner and the options line up on a white strip at the bottom. A green dot sits next to the option being selected. A soft, pleasant piano riff plays on a five second loop.

The menu for the extras DVD features a shot of Yukino and Takao standing on the bank of a pond. She holds a light pink umbrella and obscures most of Takao. The special features are listed below on a white background that takes up half of the screen. Each option is separated by a light green border and a green dot rests next to the one currently chosen. The same piano riff plays on a five second loop here as well.

It’s a nice, clear design and it features some beautiful art. My only complaint is that the song could have played on a longer loop, but that’s minor and hardly unique to this show.

Extras:
The interviews with the cast and director take up the majority of the extras and it goes on for much longer than typical DVD extras. I very much enjoyed hearing their views on the movie. It illustrates the time, care, and attention to detail that characterize the movie. I also enjoyed seeing the other works of Makoto Shinkai. I knew that he had made Voices of a Distant Star and The Placed Promised in Our Early Days, but there are works by him which I was unaware of and now I’m going to watch them, which I suppose means the feature did its job.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Takao is a fifteen year old high school student. Often lost in his own world, he’s serious and studious to a fault and dreams of one day becoming a shoemaker. Like most teenagers he feels trapped: trapped by school, trapped by his family, and trapped by his age. One rainy day he decides to skip morning classes and sit in a garden in the city park and there he encounters Yukino. Although older, Yukino appears to be on the same level of maturity as Takao. When they first meet she’s skipping work, drinking beer, and eating chocolate even though it’s before noon. Takao can’t quite understand her, and his disapproval of her actions is tempered by his fascination of her. It’s not love at first sight. It’s not even attraction at first sight. Yukino represents to him the adult world he wants to enter, and like most children (even the ones in their teens) he looks to her for some sort of insight into how to enter that world, as if she held the key to the next stage of his development. That Spring Takao makes a promise to himself to skip classes whenever it rains, and every time he does he returns to that shelter in the garden where he always finds Yukino.

For me, The Garden of Words walks a very fine line. It would be very easy for Takao and Yukino to get together, but had they done so it would have ruined the movie. Most young men dream about an older woman taking a fancy to them, but the age differences (Takao is fifteen and Yukino is twenty-seven) would make for an unpleasant situation. Had the story been made to titillate then this wouldn’t be an issue, but Shinkai has crafted a deft and serious character piece, and a situation like this is inherently complicated. It’s not that a twenty-seven year old woman couldn’t fall in love with a fifteen year old boy, but it’s not a natural or appropriate situation. I’m sure that my Western point of view is being played out here, but I feel that Shinkai feels much the same way. The relationship between the two protagonists is complicated and fascinating and seeing it play out is highly enjoyable. In some ways it reminds me of Koi Kaze, where a brother experiences a strong attraction to his younger sister. It’s not nearly as dramatic or fraught with angst, but it deals with a taboo relationship in an honest, intelligent manner.

I will say that the relationship that builds between the two grows organically. There’s a palpable chemistry between Takao and Yukino and it is understandable why they would experience feelings for each other. They complement each other well. Takao is serious and responsible to a fault, while Yukino adopts a looser, more playful attitude. As the story progresses we see that they both feel trapped—Takao by his youth and (in a way) his own personality, and Yukino by her problems at work and her inability to deal with them. The garden is their sanctuary from the pressures of their lives, and it’s understandable why they begin to pray for rainy days.

It’s easy to see why they are so attracted to this garden. The art style in this anime is absolutely gorgeous—especially the scenes that take place there. The colors in particular are breathtaking, and the way the artists animate the rain was excellent. This is one of those animes where the strength of the characters and the story is matched by the medium. The word I keep coming back to when describing this movie is subtle. There’s an attention to detail that marks every aspect of the movie, including the animation.

The only area where the movie falters is its pacing. The movie makes use of voiceover narrations to move the story forward and for the first third of the movie the only times it really stops is when it returns to the garden. I thought at first that this was done to illustrate that life didn’t truly matter to Takao and Yukino until it rained, but near the middle of the movie the story moved out and we saw more scenes of Yukino and Takao in their apartments and their high school (it is revealed about halfway through that Yukino taught classic literature at Takao’s school, but was forced out due to rumors started by upper-class girls. That Takao never realized who Yukino was illustrates how lost he gets in his own thoughts). The voiceovers still occurred, but with less frequency, and the story felt bumpy—so much so that, in fact, that it took me out of the experience at times. Obviously, given the gushing I’ve been doing, it wasn’t enough to keep me from greatly enjoying this movie, but it did take away somewhat from the experience.

In Summary:
Although the movie did suffer from awkward start and stop pacing, the sophisticated manner in which it handled the subject matter, and the subtlety and attention to detail that was given to the characters, plot, and art more than make up for it. The Garden of Words is an excellent, quiet, human story about two people of different ages finding comfort and inspiration in each other during a difficult time in their lives. It’s a beautiful movie. Highly recommended.

Features:
Japanese 5.1 Language, English 5.1 Language, English Subtitles, Japanese Commentary, English Commentary, Interviews, English Production Stills, Garden of Words Japanese Trailer, The Works of Makoto Shinkai

Content Grade: A-
Audio Grade: A+
Video Grade: A+
Packaging Grade: A
Menu Grade: A
Extras Grade: A

Released By: Sentai Filmworks
Release Date: August 6, 2013
MSRP: $24.98
Running Time: 46 minutes
Video Encoding: 1080
Aspect Ratio: 16:9

Review Equipment:
Panasonic Viera TH42PX50U 42” Plasma HDTV, Sony BPD-S3050 BluRay Player w/HDMI Connection

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The Garden Of Words Anime DVD Review