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The Garden of Words (a J!-ENT Anime Blu-ray Disc Review)

July 15, 2013 by  



Visually stunning with an immersive soundtrack and a story that is so emotional that for those who have never watched a Makoto Shinkai film will automatically become a Makoto Shinkai fan after watching this film!  “The Garden of Words” is highly recommended!

Images courtesy of ©Maoto Shinkai/CoMix Wave Films. All Rights Reserved.

TITLE: The Garden of Words (言の葉の庭)

YEAR OF FILM: 2013

DURATION: 46 Minutes

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition 16×9 HD Native, Dolby TrueHD English 5.1 and Dolby TrueHD Japanese 5.1, Subtitles: English

RATED: TV 14 D

COMPANY: Sentai Filmworks

RELEASE DATE: August 6, 2013

 

Originally Created by Makoto Shinkai

Written, Directed, Storyboards by Makoto Shinkai

Music by Daisuke Kashiwa

Character Design by Kenichi Tsuchiya

Art Direction by Hiroshi Takiguchi

Animation Director: Kenichi  Tsuchiya

Anime Production by CoMix Wave Inc.

Featuring the voices of:

Kana Hanazawa/Maggi Flecknoe as Yukari Yukino

Miyu Irino/Patrick Poole as Takao Akizuki

Fumi Hirano/Shelley Calene-Black as Takao’s mother

Megumi Han/Allison Sumrall as Satō

Mikako Komatsu/Hilary Haag as Aizawa

Suguru Inoue/Mike Yager as Matsumoto

Takeshi Maeda/Crash Buist as Takao’s older brother

Yuka Terasaki/Brittney Karbowski as Girlfriend of Takao’s older brother

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. Despite the difference in their ages, they strike up an unusual relationship that unexpectedly continues and evolves, with random meetings 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 left for Takao to put his feelings into actions and words? Between the raindrops, between the calms in the storm, what will blossom?

Just the mere mention of Makoto Shinkai’s name and fans of his work go crazy.

The former Falcom graphic designer, who took the anime industry by storm back in 2001 when he released his anime OVA titled “Voices of a Distant Star”, which he created on his Power Mac G4 and using several software and voice acted by he and his wife Miko and music provided by his friend Tenmon.

The OVA inspired many for the fact it was independent, created on a small budget but looked significantly better than some major anime series by well-known animation studios.

Suffice to say, the person who grew up inspired by Miyazaki films was now given a chance to create more animated films and he would eventually achieve success with “The Place Promised in Our Early Days” (2004), “5 Centimeters Per Second” (2007) and in 2011, he directed, wrote and produced “Children Who Chase Lost Voices (“Hoshi o Ou Kodomo”).

In May 2013, Shinkai’s latest film “Kotonoha no Miwa” (The Garden of Words) was released.

“The Garden of Words” is a film that revolves around a 15-year-old student named Takao Akizuki.  Takao lives with a mother who wants to be young and an adult brother about to move out of the home.  Dedicated in pursuing a goal of making his own shoes, both his mother and brother feel that he won’t succeed.

For Takao, he loves sketching out shoe designs and when it rains, he tends to head to the park where he can find peace and quiet.  One rainy day, he skips the first class of school and heads to the park to create some sketches and notices a young woman drinking a beer in the morning.

The two don’t speak to each other at first but with each rainy morning, Takao finds the young woman named Yukari Yukino and both begin talking to each other and enjoy their discussions.  When she sees his sketches, she talks to him about shoemaking and for Takao, he wants to make a pair of shoes in her size. He measures her feet and both have fun.

But the truth is for Yukari, outside of her discussions with Takao, her life is not fun.  She is quitting work and we get a sense that something bad has happened to her.  She looks depressed and she feels the only time she has any happiness is talking with Takao.  But Takao does sense sadness within Yukari for some reason and he always hopes he can comfort her in some way.

But with the rainy season ending, both realize it’s time to pursue their regular lives but as the days go by with no rain, both realize how happy they are to be around each other.

After the summer break from school, when Takao returns, he sees Yukari and he is surprised.  Takao’s friends tell him that the woman is Miss Yukino who tool a leave of absence from school and talked about how she had troubles in the school because one of the male students had a crush on her, so the girlfriend of the guy, she and her friends began creating rumors about Miss Yukino and started to bully her.

Takao feeling hurt about what happened to Yukari, decides to confront the teenagers who caused problems with her.  But finding out that Yukari is actually a school teacher, it doesn’t stop him from wanting to see her.

VIDEO:

“The Garden of Words” is presented in 1080p High Definition and looks magnificent on Blu-ray!  First, let me discuss how Shinkai Makoto has worked in his previous films, he and his staff tend to do a lot of research on locations, taking many photos in the process and use these photos as a source of inspiration for his films.  And often, the results are stunning.  From the way he captures sunlight on a building during a certain time of the day, sun and clouds interacting at a certain time of the day, many animated films tend to not show time during animation.  Usually it’s day or night, but with Shinkai films, you know when there is overcast, you know when the sun is rising or setting and he fully incorporates that to his films.

The other thing you will notice with “The Garden of Words” is his attention to detail with greenery (which were inspired from his research taken at Shinjuku Gyoen park).  The park looks so lush and beautiful and sets a feeling of peace and serenity for both the characters of Takao and Yukari.  Detail is also present during a scene where Takao is studying in his room, Yukari studying at work and just the scenes of rain hitting pavement, rain hitting a pond and the detail of these art backgrounds are fantastic and amazing.

Character designs are well-detailed, movement is well-done and for the most part, “The Garden of Words” is a film that looks magnificent on Blu-ray!

AUDIO:

“The Garden of Words” is presented in English and Japanese DTS-HD MA 5.1.  The lossless track is well-done, from the moment you hear the rain hitting a pond, rain hitting pavement, the sound of the train and the train arrival announcement, the cars in the background.  The sounds are immersive as they come from the surround and rear surround channels.  Audio coming from the center and front channels are crystal clear, both voice acting tracks, English and Japanese are well-acted and I saw no differences between either lossless soundtracks.  But Shinkai fans with a good audio setup will enjoy listening to this film!

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“The Garden of Words” comes with the following special features:

  • Japanese Commentary – Voice actress Risa Mizuno (of “The Place Promised in our Early Days”) interviews director Makoto Shinkai for the Japanese audio commentary.  Note: You need to select “languages” to find the audio commentary.
  • English Commentary – Audio commentary by Patrick Poole (voice actor for Takao) and Maggie Flecknoe (voice actress for Yukino).  Note: You need to select “languages” to find the audio commentary.
  • Interviews – (52:22) Interviews with director Makoto Shinkai, voice talents Kana Hanazawa and Miyu Irino.
  • Storyboards – (45:09) Watch the entire film with the Japanese voice acting but instead of animation, you will watch the original storyboards.
  • English Production Stills – (5:08) Featuring stills of the English voice talent working behind-the-scenes.
  • Garden of Words Japanese Trailer – (2:31) The Japanese theatrical trailers for “Garden of Words”.
  • The Works of Makoto Shinkai – (9:06) A featurette showcasing all Makoto Shinkai major animated works.

When it comes to the work of Makoto Shinkai, after the first film I was sold.  Similar to Studio Ghibli great, the animation prodigy who created an animated film by himself has since created one hit film after the other.  Where Studio Ghibli features a storyline that captures director Hayao Miyazaki’s thoughts on the world but yet manages to capture one’s attention towards fantasy and modern political issues, Shinkai Makoto films try to captivate you by stunning, heavily detailed animation that captures realism and characters that are emotional but well-thought out.

Suffice to say that with Shinkai’s first three films, he scored the home run with his 2007 film “5 Centimeters Per Second”, Shinkai would return to the more action/fantasy style of storyline in 2011 with “Children Who Chase Lost Voices”.

In 2013, I first heard of “Kotonoha no Niwa” (The Garden of Words) reading Japanese newspapers and eventually seeing the flyer from Tokyo Anime Fair and just seeing the lush greenery used for the promotional poster and seeing two individuals, I knew already that Shinkai has returned to the more realistic type of storyline that made me love “5 Centimeters Per Second” so much.

But seeing the duration at less than 50 minutes, I was a bit surprised but I figured, if Shinkai can tell a story this long, let’s see how things turn out.

And for the most part, after watching “The Garden of Words”, the time was appropriate and it’s a storyline that nearly worried me.

Why?  Well, when it comes to student/teacher relationships and let me first preface that this is not about a student and teacher having a romantic relationship, Japan has flirted with the storylines quite often and have had great results in TV ratings.

Japan tends to visit a storyline known as “Kou Kou Kyoushi”  every 20 years via TV drama, originally starring in 1974, the series about an ill-fated relationship between a male teacher and his student and engaging in forbidden love.  With the last incarnation made in 2003, one can expect a new series in 2023.

In 1999, the drama “Majo no Jouken” surprised fans with its story of a female teacher and a high school boy engaged in forbidden love, another dark storyline about a doomed relationship.

And while Japan has flirted with the student and teacher relationship many times, fortunately, “The Garden of Words” is not about that type of relationship and Shinkai managed to come up with a storyline that isn’t too dark or ominous, let alone banal.

If anything, it’s about a teenager and a young woman who engage in discussion during the rainy days at a local park.  A teenage boy who dreams of creating shoes experiences his first feelings of love towards someone, while a young woman is lost in the dark after an unfortunate incident that has left her not wanting to live.

Both of these individuals needs that other person, for Takao it’s about needing that person that makes him pursue his goals of making shoes, something that his mother and older brother do not support.  And then there is Yukino, a woman who needs Takao, because he is the only person that has made her feel there is hope for living.

The story is not as emotionally complex when compared to his 2007 masterpiece “5 Centimeters Per Second” but “The Garden of Words” is no doubt his most visually stunning film yet.  The amount of detail that is captured in the art backgrounds is simply amazing.  The use of CG to give the sense of rain drops hitting water or the small things in life from a train passing by, the sound of the train station and the city, the rain clouds coming in.  Just small details in life that are captured with efficacy in an animated film.

Most animation companies do not go for that type of realism.  Yes, you do get realistic photos of a neighborhood or setting, but Shinkai films go even further by capturing environments and weather but also capturing the sounds that one would hear in that setting. It’s amazing work that he and his staff are able to capture!

The picture quality on the Blu-ray release of “The Garden of Words” is stunning, the lossless soundtrack is immersive and there is a good number of long special features included with this release, from commentary to the storyboards for the entire film.

The voice acting for both Japanese and English soundtracks are well-done.  Both voice talents were able to capture the emotional moments of the film remarkably well and for the most part, I’m more than happy with how this film and the casting for both Japanese and English soundtracks.  The Blu-ray release looks and sounds great and you get a very good number of special features included!

While many have asked if I liked it better than “5 Centimeters Per Second”, my answer is that I enjoyed his 2007 film much more, because the character interaction and its dramatic storyline was much more complex let alone it was a longer film that captured a relationship over the years.  “The Garden of Words” is still a beautiful and captivating film but nowhere near the brilliance of Shinkai’s 2007 masterpiece.  But I would say it’s my favorite Shinkai film after “5 Centimeters Per Second”.

Visually stunning with an immersive soundtrack and a story that is so emotional that for those who have never watched a Makoto Shinkai film will automatically become a Makoto Shinkai fan after watching this film!  “The Garden of Words” is highly recommended!






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