The Garden of Words
A faint clap of thunder, Clouded skies, Perhaps rain will come. If so, will you stay here with me?
The Garden of Words (2013) for me is the second best in my list for Shinkai. After rewatching it and found it deeper than I thought it would be, I want to talk about this visually beautiful film. Aside from being emotionally and romantically moving, I want to talk about another aspect of there relationship namely the themes of maturity and responsibility.
NOTE: Screenshots have reduced quality since they are too pretty to load fast. That's how pretty and defined the film's frames are.
Place And Time
In order to discuss the relationship between our characters, let's discuss the mechanics of it. During rainy morning, each of our characters retreat to a tiny hut in a park where they accidentally and coincidentally meet and do so every rainy day.
Neither revealing who they really are and being in their own little solitude, both warm up to there shared isolation over time. This is a quiet and beautiful setup that I rarely see in films. A genre savvy person would cue this is as an opportunity to have a blooming relationship in an isolated environment where meeting outside this shelter is a plot revelation.
Aside from being in their own world, the rain also plays quite a symbolic meaning here. The rain serves as a veil to the world they are escaping, the city noise muffled by the falling rain. This veil obscures the world to focus on them and their internal silence. It also serves as the extent of there initial relationship. Shrouded by a veil of escapism, neither revealing who they are outside, only what they wish to show inside. During their meetings under the shower, they are hidden and hiding themselves. Quite a poetic tone this setup yields.
Another way to look at this setup is where people can be people without there social standing and responsibility. Our characters only know what the dressing means but they come bare without the chatter and stigma of it. Weary adults and youth, they can come here with their naked silence and weakness. A student and an office worker and nothing more and this is what the film settles on. Both skipping work and neither judge each other and talk about it. So they can go on without knowing there names or lives. This is what this place is, a place where solitude and privacy is respected.
There is an asymmetry here that break the characters contracts. During their first meeting, the older woman recites a Japanese poem which I find very poignant and at the same time a hint on who she is. It implies she knows where the student goes and say something that the school might know. However, the student does not pick up on this subtle hint and they continue in their shared space.
A high-school student and a working woman. I understand if people find this a strange combination of a romantic relationship between an older woman a decade older than the man, but the context of their relationship should be examined. The examination I would like to focus on who is the child and adult.
Takao, the high schooler.
What makes him standout is that he is mature for his age: he does the cooking, he gets jobs to pay for his tuition, he has a dream that he is working on. Despite being a student, he is pretty mature in taking household and personal responsibility aside from skipping school on rainy mornings.
Yukino, the literature teacher.
Although it is sad she is bullied by her students, she does not work for a while and decides to go to the park on rainy mornings. She does not know how to cook so she brings chocolates, where sweets are indicative of being childish. She drinks beer early morning as if to lull the day away. Ignoring responsibility, she is not a mature role model despite being a teacher.
Symbolically, Takao is the adult while Yukino is the child while physically it is the opposite. Here is where opposites attract.
In the scene where Takao measures Yukino's foot, I find it beautiful and subtle. To contextualize, Yukino gives Takao a shoe design book which is somewhat the closest thing she has done in being a teacher by giving him a book that he cannot afford. To repay that kindness, Takao offers to make Yukino a shoe for her, handcrafting to show its personal and priceless value. This simple exchange shows their interest in each others space and world.
Takao wants to be treated as an adult, going to school on a sunny day illuminates and reminds him of the fact that he is not. Granted that he is surprisingly independent, but the fact that he wants to be acknowledged as such shows he is not really one yet. One does need to tell everyone who they are to be who they really are. Weirdly, he thrust into this independence partly because his mother is gone hunting men or for the lack of a parental figure. The reason why he wants to be a shoe maker is presented in a way to please her mother and carried this dream or idea through his teenage years. By making shoes, will it give him the attention his mother had once given the shoe? Regardless, the presence of the mysterious adult Yukino allows him to connect to the world he wants as well fulfill this dream or desire to be noticed.
On the other hand, Yukino is emotionally crippled by the people she is helping. For no fault of her own, one of her student falls for her but the girlfriend of this student started spreading rumors which caused the class to harass her. One subtle thing I had a hard time picking up is whether Yukino was in a relationship with another teacher, Itou, who broke up with her because he believed the rumors and dissuaded her in taking action since it might affect the school they are working on; if that is the case, she has no one to understand her. Either way by being seen as an adult and teacher, she cannot truly show this weakness and do her job since by not being emotionally reconciled and repressed she cannot effectively teach children how to be a strong adult and not a crybaby. So by being with a student that does not know her, her crippling isolation is slowly melting away by finding acceptance in him.
You can say Yukino is indeed acting weak or immaturely but that is the point with her. Despite growing in years, it does not mean she grows emotionally on par. People are not invulnerable and get hurt, children and adults.
So the nature and resolution of their conflicts and coincide with their communion. Their prayer for rain is really a heartfelt one so the response to the poem seem to suggest the answer:
Even if rain comes not, I will stay here, together with you.
The film uses walking here to symbolize the struggle with life and shoes the support and strength needed to continue with it. Rightly so, shoes are made for walking and to protect the feet from stones and harm.
In line with responsibility, the thing I want to point out here is social status and footing. The phrase "on equal footing" holds weight here as it describes the relationship and catharsis for our characters. So the scene where Takao confesses to Yukino has so much meaning to address.
Their Relationship Outside
After meeting on a sunny day, a storm suddenly switches on which leads our characters to experience their relationship outside of it. I genuinely felt moved by the simple, short and quiet scene which shows what they had in their paradise remains true and valid even if all of it was a mystery and front. As it pains me to say this, their relationship has completed their conflict in terms of walking in life.
Walking In The Sunny Season
Once the rainy season had stopped, both characters cannot and will not go to their promised place because they had no reason. It looks cute that way but the clever use of light and rain indicates that there meeting is a dream made by rain and not just a time and place. So there relationship is in a hiatus but they move in their lives.
Yukino decides during this period to move to another teaching job and Takao gets jobs to pay for his tuition and the shoe materials. Neither would have happened if they never shared their company. So when they met outside for the first time, they had already decided to walk.
This is why the confession seems subtly heartbreaking.
When Takao confesses to Yukino, she is standing up and he is sitting down. Yukino then responds by saying to call her with her honorifics or the respect her status brings. She then sits downs and thanks him for essentially nothing by stressing the line.
I was practicing how to walk on my own, there in that place. Even if am barefoot…
This line means that she was doing fine without Takao and their relationship effectively has no bearing on their own walks. Moreover, there relationship before this was unclouded and unburdened by social responsibility and status, by demanding the honorifics it breaks the contract of their relationship. The point here is that Takao is now seen as a child with an infatuation for a woman a decade older than him.
Notice the act of Yukino sitting down is similar to talking down a child and that when she does sit, they do not meet eye to eye as the division on the door divides it. Here is where Takao's age and status is a hindrance which he escapes in the park. As the kid, he loses out in the end as he takes his leave.
The cathartic scene where Yukino chases after Takao reiterates this emotion and the meaning of their footing, status, or the weight of who they really are.
All Takao wanted was to be seen as a man or adult. In his eyes, everything was tipped against him. Yukino knowing more about him and not telling him she was a teacher at his school is indeed unfair as it looks like she was playing around with him. It is really unfair the adult gets the stick or prod.
So when Yukino steps down to embrace Takao, their status are discarded to reveal that indeed she seems him as something more. They do no meet halfway, they meet as people. Let the tears flows.
The next question is how does this fit in with their ending?
Open Ended Maturity
Yukino finally starts teaching again and Takao finishes the shoes. At the end of the film, Takao goes to the park on a snowy and leaves the shoes behind leaving their relationship as open-ended. Here is why I like the ending better is that the answer to it implies message to the whole story. To interpret the ending let us answer the meaning of Yukino leaving.
Accepting Their Reality
Simply if Yukino stays, she denies her actions in moving. In one way, she denies who she is just because she loves someone, which would undermine her reformed strength. She has a responsibility to herself to carry on and to Takao who is a child still. If their reality is to be considered, their relationship is inappropriate. Age, social, economical or whatever reason it might be, it would be wise if both parties mature further before doing so. This is emphasized by Takao with the parting lines:
I was practicing how to walk too. That's what I think now. One day, when I can walk much farther on my own… I'll go see her.
Takao is indeed still a child and needs to walk and grow. This realization settles his path to maturity, that he need not hurry. By leaving the shoe, he shows resolve instead of waiting for her. So Yukino has finally acted like a responsible adult.
What I pointed is out the coming to age theme of the film. Others have done like1 FLCL, but this does it coming from a teenagers point of view where it might hold better weight and perspective. I appreciate this portrayal of a teenager, it could have been about their romantic expressions or moments but I am thankful it was about their genuine need from each other. However, this does not answer what it means if they do hook up in the future.
At this point, it is up to the reader's interpretation on the following points or ideas whether they should meetup. The guiding principle is interpreting it in the context of a mature relationship.
- The woman is years older
- It is typical or preferable for the man to be older than the woman if fertility is a question.
- Takao shoemaking
- His desire to make shoes comes from a childish idea. Would you consider his love for shoe making genuine or but a fad as his brother puts it? Would you consider leaving the shoes behind as leaving this idea behind?
- There relationship comes from a veil
- Is it wise to have a relationship that does not truly know each other? I'm assuming Yukino left after their catharsis, so he still might know nothing about her. By that logic, their relationship might just be still at surface level. Should he really chase her then?
Some might say love conquers all or some might say it is just a phase. Whatever you answer to the main question, it really reflects on the theme of maturity in their relationship. As for me, I'm okay if Takao forgets Yukino because their veiled relationship has done its work. Whether he decides to find her or not in time, we may never know.
But isn't that love, a dream and a reality?
Dreamer or not, this short film is thought-provoking so much about teenage maturity and responsibility despite being a love story. That is why I find this second only to 5 Centimeters Per Second in terms of exploring aspects of relationships. This film is not perfect that these points might be too subtle, the open ending, the overly emotional ending, and so much more but I truly love this film and what it leaves behind.