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Observations in The Garden of Words – An Explanation of Shoes, Rain, and Love

June 04, 2013 By: Nopy Category: Anime

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Since the release of Makoto Shinkai’s latest film, The Garden of Words, the general reaction to it has been positive with unanimous agreement that it is a visually stimulating work of art. Unfortunately, there also seems to be a number of people who think that The Garden of Words is lacking in story, character development, and closure. I have to disagree with those people as I found the 45 minute film to be bursting with hidden meanings that address all of those things. In fact, I think The Garden of Words is Shinkai’s most thought-out and deliberate film and I will discuss why by offering some of my interpretations.

I have structured this post to cover aspects in roughly the same order that they make a significant appearance in the film. It may seem awkward with the way they’re connected, but it helps to highlight just how much is going on in the background.

Why did Shinkai make Takao a shoemaker?

Considering the age we live in, it’s very rare for a teenager to aspire to be a shoemaker. Most 15-year-old boys still dream of becoming sports stars or some other glamorous professional so why did Shinkai decide to make Takao a shoemaker? Throughout the film, shoes play an important part in an extended metaphor, but it might not be obvious at first. In its most basic form, shoes function to support and protect people from things that may be lying in our path. A higher function of shoes is to allow us to express ourselves through fashion and style. Now think about that for a moment; where else did we see support, protection, and expression in the film? Takao and Yukino’s relationship shows all three of these aspects clearly. Takao supports Yukino during their encounters by offering her a companion to spend mornings with and not have to worry about everything crumbling around her. He also protects her when he confronts the students that were spreading the rumours about her. Finally, Takao allows Yukino to express her true feelings. It’s a very Cinderella-esque situation where Takao was the perfect fit for Yukino. If Takao were not training to be a shoemaker, it would have been difficult to establish the shoe metaphor and it is important to keep this metaphor in mind as it plays into other aspects of the film, especially the climax and ending.

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The Garden and the Rain

It’s easy to pass off the garden and rain as tools to show of the film’s exquisite animation quality, but they are far more than that. The garden sits in the heart of Tokyo, a megalopolis that extends as far as the eye can see, as if it is hiding but at the same time standing in defiance of the world around it. This is where Takao first sees Yukino sitting on the bench, a hint to what the garden symbolizes: Takao’s view of Yukino. Takao states that Yukino represents the secrets of the world, he knows nothing about her other than that she defies social rules by skipping work and drinking beer in a park where alcohol is banned. Yukino is also shrouded in mystery, much like how the garden is hidden away amongst the skyscrapers. The mystery surrounding the garden is emphasized when a couple appears while Yukino is reading a book and the boy states that he can’t believe they’re still in Shinjuku. I think this connection between Yukino and the garden was done deliberately in order to lead up to the climax, which I will discuss later.

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Unlike shoes and the garden, the rain plays both a developmental role and a connecting one. Whenever it rains, it acts as a bridge connecting Takao and Yukino, that part is obvious. What I also gathered from the film was that the rain represented their disillusionment with each other. The rain cuts out all noise from the city, drowning everything out with the sound of raindrops, leaving only the chirping of birds. In a way, the rain transforms the world and delivers Takao and Yukino to their special place. The rain also acts to drown out aspects of both Takao and Yukino so that they never really see each other in full light. Remember when Takao confronts Yukino after discovering she is a teacher? It was bright and sunny. When the thunderstorm rolls in it’s like there is one final hurdle that the two of them must overcome in order to really understand each other, leading directly to the climax.

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A Fork in the Path

The train station plays an interesting role. It is the gateway to three different worlds: Takao’s school life, Yukino’s adult world, and the garden. Once at the station, it is up to the traveler to determine where to go. This decision was shown subtly throughout the film, and most prominently when Yukino debates where to go. Shinkai really did a great job contrasting the train schedule here on the left with the trees on the right, representing the path to the adult world versus the one to the garden. In the first scene with Yukino at the station, she reluctantly heads onto the train but doesn’t get on before the doors close. In the second instance, when Yukino goes to the side of the screen where the trees are without hesitation, it shows that she now values her time at the garden more than anything else.

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Le Petit Prince

A great artist knows his audience and Shinkai demonstrates this in a short pan over Yukino’s bookshelf. As with most people, I can’t read Japanese and since Shinkai is releasing this film to an international audience, he has to keep this in mind. Here is where a novella titled “Le Petit Prince” comes in. It is near the end of the bookshelf, but stands out due to the size difference with the books around it. Le Petit Prince is a story recognized around the world about a pilot that comes into contact with a prince from space. As the two of them get to know each other, they become attached, but in the end must part ways. In a way, Takao and Yukino play the roles of both the pilot and the prince interchangeably. Both Takao and Yukino are misunderstood by the world, like the pilot, but both appear to each other as this person that finally understands them, like the prince. Presenting Le Petit Prince prepares viewers for what is going to happen.

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What was happening with the eggs?

Something that seems very ordinary, but also deliberately placed was the cracking of eggs. When watching The Garden of Words for the first time, I had to ask myself why Shinkai decided to show Yukino fail at cracking an egg. It soon became apparent when Takao cracked two eggs later in the film. In my view, the eggs were a representation of life. In the first egg cracking scene, there was only one egg and it created a mess, much like how Yukino was alone and her life was a mess. When Yukino and Takao were together, the two eggs were cracked without any mess, representing how Yukino and Takao were supporting each other.

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The Power of Words

Despite the title, few words were spoken in this film, but that means that each line holds so much more meaning. I’m sure everyone has focused on the tanka poem already so I’m going to discuss my favourite lines from the film: Takao’s confession and subsequent rejection. Here I’m going to assume that the translation I have is correct and that Takao did say that he “thinks” he’s in love with Yukino when he confessed. This highlights one of the problems in their relationship, how can they have one when Takao is so young and inexperienced that he doesn’t even know if he’s in love? Takao’s role as not an actual shoemaker, but a shoemaker in training also serves as a reminder that he is still just not ready.

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Yukino’s response to Takao’s confession was what really blew me away. There was no acknowledgement, no excuse, and no dodging. Her reply that it’s not “Yukino-san” but “Yukino-sensei” (sensei = teacher) was absolutely loaded. In a way it is a rejection, but in a way it’s not. Yukino has brought up the fact that she is a teacher and Takao is a student therefore they cannot be together. Whether or not she is in love with Takao doesn’t matter because she has chosen to place society’s values above her own. It also leaves Takao frustrated, wondering what Yukino is actually thinking and if she ever cared about him. Keep in mind what rain represents and note that this whole time it has been raining, which sets the stage for the climax.

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The Climax

The moments leading up to and including Yukino embracing Takao outside her apartment were some of the most powerful I’ve ever seen. To those who say it was abrupt and had no lead-up, I say you are missing the story. The shoes, the garden, the rain, the confession and rejection all converge to this point to create a powerful scene that will have anyone thinking “this is a masterpiece”.

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Remember when I discussed how shoes represented support, protection, and expression and how Takao was offering this to Yukino? When Yukino runs after Takao, there is a strong emphasis on her feet with the camera zooming in several times. The film is pointing out that she is barefoot – she has just lost her support and needs to get him back.

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The rain is also coming down heavily when Takao walks out, a symbol of Takao and Yukino’s disillusionment with each other. When Takao reveals everything in his outburst it dispelled any remaining illusions the two of them might have had and the skies suddenly clear.

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When the two of them embrace and the camera zooms out, they are standing in a tall apartment building outside of the garden. Some people may be wondering why such an important scene takes place in a stairwell when the rest of the movie has been in a beautiful, lush garden. Recall that the garden represents mystery and secrets. Now that Takao has revealed everything, there is nothing hidden between him and Yukino which is why the garden falls into the background and why they are no longer a part of it.

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Everything in the film leads up to this point in a wonderfully crafted scene. Yukino accepts that she can’t walk alone forever, Takao dispels any illusions he had, and the two are able to leave their hearts bare in a warm embrace.

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When I grew up and fell in love, I asked my sweetheart, ‘what lies ahead?

In the dénouement, Takao receives a letter from Yukino stating… we actually don’t know. Love him or hate him for it, this was another deliberate act by Shinkai. We only get a glimpse of the last line of Yukino’s letter, but the content of the letter is not what’s important, it’s the paper that it’s written on. At the very bottom of the page is a line from the famous song Que Sera, Sera. While Yukino did not write this line, its importance to the film should not be understated. As the lyrics to Que Sera, Sera say, whatever will be will be. Takao and Yukino had their romance, they fell in love, experienced the happiest time of their lives, and broke up. Whatever happens beyond this point will depend on fate; Takao and Yukino will not actively try to reignite what they had.

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Shoes

Takao finally finishes his shoes for Yukino at the end of the film. The shoes help to tie up some loose ends. Much like how Takao acted as Yukino’s support, Yukino was Takao’s support. He was a shoemaker in training at the beginning of the film, having only made shoes for himself. Yukino’s presence helps Takao grow as an adult, which is paralleled with his development as a shoemaker. Having now experienced love and loss, learning the “secrets” that Yukino held and dispelling the illusions that he had about the adult world, Takao is now closer to being an adult that can walk on his own. The shoes that he leaves behind helps to symbolize this by acting as proof that he has advanced as a “shoemaker”. The shoes are also proof of Takao’s support for Yukino.

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Conclusions

The Garden of Words was brilliant in the way it connected all of the major plot points to lead up to the climax and then closing off any remaining issues in the dénouement. It is not only visually stimilating but mentally and emotionally stimulating. Everything was deliberate and had a purpose. There was so much going on that the film felt much longer than 45 minutes. Perhaps the only major question left unanswered was whether Takao and Yukino ever get back together. Here again Shinkai takes his audience into consideration. In Japan, there is this belief that duty takes precedence over personal desires, especially amongst older generation. However, many people believe that love conquers all. The beauty of The Garden of Words is that it allows for multiple interpretations. The ending does not reveal what happens to Takao and Yukino, so those who value duty can believe that they never get back together even if Takao goes to visit Yukino. On the other hand, those to value love can believe that once Takao has graduated and become a shoemaker, he will visit Yukino and their love will be rekindled. Both the duty and love interpretations are correct in my opinion since the film leaves it open-ended.

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I expect there to be some disagreement with the interpretations I’ve offered here, but a sign of any work of art is its ability to invoke different interpretations and meanings from different people. I welcome any differing interpretations and encourage discussion on aspects of the film I have not covered such as the tanka poem, Takao’s family, and Yukino’s taste disorder. Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments.

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More anime interpretations:

Observations in The Garden of Words – Addendum 1

Observations in Mawaru Penguindrum – An Explanation of the Method to the Madness

Examining Shin Sekai Yori – Eugenics

 

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29 Comments to “Observations in The Garden of Words – An Explanation of Shoes, Rain, and Love”


  1. Good article, I can agree with all your points.

    I would also mention Takao’s mother, who’s still young yet never around when her sons need her. I think this makes it clear that Yukino, who’s older than Takao yet still young, is a replacement mother figure for him who can listen to his troubles and give him support with his dreams that his actual mother never does.

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    • That’s a good point about Takao’s mother. It was interesting to see that she came back home at the end of the movie after Yukino left, making it seem like Yukino was in fact a replacement mother figure.

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      • I definitely noted the link with Takao’s mother, but I interpreted it somewhat differently. The similarities between Yukino and Takao’s mother go much further than their age. They are both attracted by younger men, both seem to be quite heavy beer drinkers, and both are unsure of their place in life. They share the same “flaws” if you will (by society’s standards that is). As such Yukino would actually be a rather poor choice as a substitute mother. Also, Yukino is in fact NOT there for Takao either, hence he later complaints about her not confiding in him. He regards it as a lack of trust/faith from her in him. I therefore think the link serves more to illustrate Takao’s understanding of both women, something that is further highlighted by the fact that neither he nor his brother are ever truly dismissive of their mother, and Takao at least seems to think of her fondly. It ultimately serves to explain how Takao can bridge his side of the age gap in his relationship with Yukino.

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  2. Man, this was a nice read. I find it odd people might have missed on some of these things, I thought it was more straight forward and to the point than say 5cm/second.

    Overall I enjoyed it, I enjoyed the visual flair, the characters and the over all story.
    Miette-chan recently posted..Let’s play a dating sim with Kirino!

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    • I found it pretty obvious as well, but it may just be due to me actually paying attention during literature class. I know a lot of people don’t so they might not pick up on some things.

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  3. Holy… Nopy, why you’re so genius!? I don’t think about it that far. What I felt from this latest movie from shinkai is that, it kinda seem ordinary, but it leaves a deep impression to the audience(to me, at least). It’s not a tearjerker but it kinda made you to think this movie is ‘something’.

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    • It definitely is something, but it sounds like a lot of people missed what that something was. This movie was exactly like something I would’ve studied in literature so I just wanted to share my observations and interpretations.

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      • Well…how’d you expect people to think that deep? In your opinion, what should people do to be able to pick up the meaning of the movie like you do? Cause I’d love to be able to be like you. Like, discovering the hidden story that this movie told.

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        • I don’t know about the rest of the world, but looking for metaphors, hidden agendas, propaganda, purpose, and masks were all part of my high school curriculum. I’m sure if you take some courses on classic literature, they’ll go over all of that stuff.

          For reference, some of the titles we studied were: Metamorphosis, An Enemy of the People, The Taming of the Shrew, Dubliners, A Doll’s House, Hamlet, A Tale of Two Cities, and a bunch of others.

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  4. They’ll meet again one day… On the last part of the movie he promised and vowed to himself that when he can be a better shoemaker… while yukino was looking at the window thinking about takao..

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    • I’m sure they will meet again, but the question is whether the time apart will have changed them. Will they rekindle their love and pick up where they left off, or will they realize that meeting each other was all that was meant to happen?

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      • I think that based on the shoe argument below, it is fair to assume they at least keep in touch.

        Personally I’m a big fan of the “rekindled love” option, and not merely because that’s the ending I’d like to see, after having watched 5cm Per Second just a day or two before GoW (very good, very depressing). In 5cm the characters remain obsessively occupied with their love and hope to see the other again. However they don’t have a clue about how, when or why. It’s hope, only hope, and a lot of expectations, but no confidence or understanding. Takao and Yuniko are in this respect the exact opposite. They accept the distance between them and the necessity of it, go on with their lives, yet show the determination to keep in touch or get in touch later, without simply the need for any concrete expectations.

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  5. I’ve seen the director’s cut music video of the movie, and at the end it shows that yukino wore the shoes that takao made, what could it mean?

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    • Really, where? I’d love to watch it. Thanks.

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      • Found it!

        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ieD9eKJt7tU

        I initially misread Raf’s comment too. It’s not an actual director’s cut of the movie, it’s only the director’s cut of a Hata Motohiro music video. It just looks like trailer material, but the last seconds show the shoes being worn (though in fairness, not necessarily by Yuniko, but who else could? They were custom fitted to her feet).

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  6. Great article. Very well written with an extensive insight into the movie. Good Job!

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  7. the article was really intriguing. Really enjoyed it. Though i watched it for the first time, it was like a deja-vu for me. I could related to this story. Would love to watch other works of this director.

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  8. Zacarias Nason says:

    I’m totally missing the “fate” part here but agreed with literally everything else; They made a point of showing Takao in the epilogue mentioning that he might deliberately go out and seek her later, that is not remotely left to “fate”.

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    • There is a difference between intentions and reality.

      If you plan on doing something when you’re 15/16, years later that plan might have changed, and even if it hasn’t there is no guarantee you will succeed, especially if it involves another person.

      Ofcourse Raf’s shoe argument strongly suggests that Takao will, but it is still no more than a hint. Did he bring her the shoes years later, or did he just sent them to her?

      It is precisely when one’s intentions are perfectly clear, but the outcome still is not, that “fate” comes into play.

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  9. annoyed says:

    “Despite the title, few words were spoken in this film, but that means that each line holds so much more meaning”

    the title of the movie is “the garden of worlds” not the garden of words
    i think you might have made a mistake while reviewing this movie

    23
  10. I completely agree with your stance upon how people oversee the movie’s subtle, yet vital themes, metaphors and symbolism. It is as you said, a bit ironic that there is little dialogue despite the title but a picture can paint a thousand words haha.

    The interpretation of the eggs was quite an interesting pick up – I just finished rewatching it and found that scene(s) of great importance leading to the finale..

    Also as a personal interpretation I’d like to add… There was a scene when Yukino opens her make-up and finds one side cracked and the other side in an ostensibly pristine condition. The two juxtaposing sides of the make up emulates Yukino’s both “I’m okay” pretense to the fragile one that was eventually revealed. I found it amazing that Shinkai can comment upon the characteristic and oppressive conditions that characters face through such mundane items

    Thanks for the observations!

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  11. I know this a bit late but why did yukino say the tanka poem to takao when they first met each other?

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    • It was intended as a hint for Takao that she was a teacher. She did not want to reveal that fact directly as he was wearing his school uniform and would feel ‘caught’ skipping class.

      Takao did not get the message however, untill the very end. By then it had gotten a whole other meaning. Apart from being a basic love poem, the situation it describes, mirrors Yukino and Takao’s: The poet asks whether the recipient would stay with him/her under the excuse of necessity (rain) or chance. The recipient then replies stating that he/she will stay by choice rather than necessity or chance, and does not need an excuse to do so.

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  12. notoriousostrich says:

    Thank you so much for this analysis. It is 100% spot on/resonates with everything that I was thinking and feeling while watching the film, but couldn’t completely put into words. It is by far one of the best pieces of works that I have watched. Sheer brilliance by Shinkai and a great analytical mind to dissect it!

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  13. Thank you very much for this interpretation! I just watched the movie and had the feeling that i had missed something even though i’ve got some metaphors (like the one with the eggs).
    I will watch the movie again now so I can get the full experience! :)

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2 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Garden of Words Review | deluscar 12 09 13
  2. Observations in the Garden of Words – Addendum 1 | Nopy's Blog 07 12 14

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