The other day I was rewatching The Garden of Words and noticed something significant that I left out of my original post. As with every viewer, I can only analyze a story from my existing beliefs, understandings, and knowledge. That said, it is difficult at times to observe, interpret, and understand everything from a Japanese viewpoint when I was raised in Canada and taught western culture and literature. Therefore, I hope that this addendum will help others who grew up in a similar environment as me to better appreciate the beauty of The Garden of Words.
Star-crossed Lovers: Orihime and Hikoboshi
The most famous story of forbidden love in western literature is probably that of Romeo and Juliet, but in Japan it is probably that of Orihime and Hikoboshi, who are represented by the stars Vega and Altair. Look up “Tanabata” to read about their story. Below is a brief summary from earthsky.org:
Orihime, a celestial princess or goddess falls in love with a mortal, Hikoboshi. But when Orihime’s father finds out, he is enraged and forbids her to see this mere mortal. Thus the two lovers are placed in the sky, where they are separated by the Celestial River, known to us as the Milky Way. Yet the sky gods are kind. Each ear, on the 7th night of the 7th moon, a bridge of magpies forms across the Celestial River, and the two lovers are reunited. Sometimes Hikoboshi’s annual trip across the Celestial River is treacherous, though, and he doesn’t make it. In that case, Orihime’s tears form raindrops that fall over Japan.
There is some imagery in The Garden of Words that reflect this story. The most notable scene is during an aerial shot of the park when you see two umbrellas making their way towards Takao and Yukari’s meeting spot. Notice that there is a small stream that separates them, much like the Celestial River.
Shortly after, there is a scene that shows the sky with a dark band and stream of clouds running diagonally across it with the moon on one side and a star on the other. I thought it might be coincidence at first, but I am pretty sure that this was meant to symbolize that a bridge had formed across the “river” thereby giving access to the two lovers on either side. Note that it is not raining at this point in time (ie: Orihime is not crying).
This imagery is backed by a later scene towards the end of the movie when a shot of an airplane is shown flying across the sky. Its exhaust forms a line in the same direction as the dark band earlier, representing the river. You can also see an arc-like (or bridge-like) cloud that is moving away. Since this takes place when Yukari leaves, I am taking it to mean that the two lovers are now returning to their respective sides.
Finally, at the end of the movie, we are again treated to an aerial view of the park with a white umbrella leaving Takao and Yukari’s meeting place, hoping to see each other again in the future.
For more interpretations, the comments from my original post also offer some good insight.