I just finished watching Garden of Words, a gorgeous and relatively short anime film directed by Makoto Shinkai, most famous for his previous work, 5 Centimeters Per Second, another beautiful and excellent work. Here are some of my quick, raw thoughts and unedited ramblings on of some of its thematic elements. While not organized or formally structured by any stretch of the imagination, I hope it still at least make some semblance of sense.
“A faint clap of thunder,
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.”
In the film, the rain, I think, comes to symbolize a shield between one’s self and the rest of the world—and all the societal pressures and expectations associated with it. Akizuki is uncertain and worried that his passion for shoe-making won’t make for much of a future, and must constantly work part-time jobs just to finance it, while Yukino faces personal problems in her professional life. When placed in the structure of society, and all the expectations that come with it (students should behave like this, teachers must be like such), the two must become something dishonest to their true selves. The rain gives them excuse to escape all that and find solace in the garden. Neither Akizuki nor Yukino are inclined to introduce themselves formally, for that would be introducing themselves as the people they are in society. Here, the two protagonists are able to put their guard down and become their honest selves within the context of the garden—shielded off from everything else with the soft pitter-patter of rain.
They connect to each other as their real, vulnerable selves, and it is with this understanding that their relationship gains significance. They are damaged to the core by the pressures and insecurities associated with functioning “properly” in society, for if maturity can be gauged, these two would arguably rank the same, for though Akizuki is younger, his naïveté and innocence is sparse thanks to his disorganized family and his working during holidays while other students do not; Yukino on the other hand, feels “no older than when [she] was 15 years ago.” As such, in this haven, they help each other “walk” again—that is, overcome the emotional struggles and pain society has stricken them with (physically manifested in the symbol of the shoes, and the shoe-making (plus they help each other out with their words, hence the title (AYY)!)). Their age gap is irrelevant, for such stigma is a characteristic of the outside world, and thus absent in their sanctuary. Their connection is as genuine and intimate as it gets—once which heals and amends their bare selves.
However, as it turns out, society is too overbearing and ever-present to escape, as the rain stops, and Yukino’s identity and her struggles come to light. At the realization of Akizuki’s feelings, Yukino, though obviously moved, still feels shackled by the expectations of society (a teacher shouldn’t be romantically linked to a student//romance cannot bloom in that much of an age gap) to reciprocate. The film’s emotional climax speaks profoundly of these ideas. After she unrequits his confession, she ungracefully sprints and stumbles after Akizuki, with no remorse for the physical hurt she sustains, showing that she refuses to be fettered by society, instead acting on the emotional connection which she shares with Akizuki (“I think right now, this is the happiest moment in my life”). Akizuki’s visceral and pained diatribe, however, reminds both of them that they truly cannot escape the worries and expectations of society. As he rattles off to her how society expects her to react and behave towards him, their inability to be together becomes all the more apparent. However, this does not mean that the healing and solace which they found in each other was in vain. She, without a shred of conscious thought, steps forward, and they embrace, wrapping together, weeping in an anguished, pained embrace, indicating the healing effects of their relationship. Their connection transcends the shackles and expectations of society—their intimacy is healthy and restorative to their genuine, true selves.
Though they cannot ultimately escape the burdens of the outer world, they still heal one another—the underlying beauty of their bond. This is a message which speaks volumes on the nature of love—one outside our traditions and conventions which holds a deeply emotional satisfaction. The tanka which Akizuki and Yukino recite to one another convey the healing nature of their relationship in the face of societal pressures. The film thus challenges the viewer to think outside the preconceptions (and do’s and don’ts) of our society, and instead, cherish the deeply intimate and healing relationships we form with one another.
But hey, just some thoughts.