The Garden of Words might very well be visually the most beautiful animated movie ever made. Every frame could be a stunning background. You could pause the movie at any random time and stare at the whole frame before you, noticing little touches here and there. I felt like I had no time to take it all in, after a regular, normal viewing. Even if there had not been a story, it would still have been worth it to see it.
The film moves with the rhythms of rain, sky and seasons. And the romance only really exists in the rain. You know how rain can be romantic, don’t you? It patters gently and closes you in, inside an intimate cocoon of your own thoughts, of shelter and hot tea. It makes you stare at how the rain taps on the ground and makes circles in the water. How it moves like little worms over the glass windows. And when the sun comes out and shines through the rain, everything lights up magically. The clouds move in layers of colors. Little angry grey clouds and white giants, and above them an orange sky in the setting sun.
It is a short film of only 45 minutes, but I had to pause it halfway through, because I tried to concentrate to take in all the detailed visuals. But then, I just surrendered myself to it and let it wash over me. These animators are really talented, but the images of Tokyo also look better than real life with a sort of kitschy JJ Abrams sensibility. There are lens flares and everything looks more colorful and shiny than in real life. Perhaps I make it sound cheap, but the subtle color compositions actually display much greater artistry and attention than those Hollywood movies.
The story is about a 16-year-old boy and a 28-year-old woman who develop a short-lived romantic connection over the course of a year. The whole thing is sort of ill-judged and doomed from the start, but they are both lonely people and this is how the dynamic between them plays out in a bittersweet way. They meet about every day in Shinjuku park on the same bench, hiding from the rain. Their connection coexists with the weather, which is heavily laden with emotion. The rainy season drives them together, and as summer starts, they are separated again. The locations of the film all really exist in real life, including the bench.
If your mood is influenced by the weather, this film is for you. Between their meetings, we see little close-ups of the rain in the park. Insects, the sun shining brightly through the green leaves. Soft piano music accompanies the story and the silent moments. In soft Japanese voices, the boy and the woman narrate their personal thoughts. You could put this movie up in the background on a dreary day, make some tea and just let your mind rest.
The movie ends, unfortunately, with some teenage angst and overly dramatic scenes of anger and tears, but emotionally it does tie everything nicely together. I wish the movie was slightly longer to really flesh out the characters more, so that it feels more like a full feature, but the short length is also just fine for the short story that it wants to tell.