The Garden of Words (Film Review)

Tokyo is one of the largest, busiest, most lively cities in the world, but there’s an oasis of tranquility right near its heart, and I’m not talking about the mostly off-limits Imperial Palace Grounds. I speak of Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden, once a private estate in the Edo period, and also the primary setting of Shinkai Makoto’s 2013 film The Garden of Words.

I’ll admit my review comes very late—so late, in fact, in the time between the release of the film and the day I’m writing a review of it, its co-lead Akizuki Takao would be 19 (not 15), making a potential romantic relationship with Yukino Yukari, who would be 31 (not 27) more socially acceptable. But here it is!

Akizuki loves rainy mornings. He loves them so much, he’ll skip school to visit Shinjuku Gyoen and enjoy it. One day, while preparing to sit at a sheltered bench overlooking the gardens, he encounters Yukino: a beautiful, mysterious woman in work clothes drinking beer and eating chocolate alone.

While 15, Akizuki is wiser and more mature than his years. He finds high school a major drag, and mostly stresses about a practical way to support himself doing what he loves: designing and making shoes. But when he visits the park and shares the bench with Yukino, he feels like he’s in a more mature environment, where he can sketch shoes or just shoot the breeze with her.

Their encounters also become important to Yukino, who we learn is preparing to quit her job, and is clearly in the park to escape said job and the stress/pain it causes, which was apparently bad enough that she lost her sense of taste for a time, only being able to enjoy beer and chocolate.

Not only is the hard-working Akizuki a shoemaker-in-the-making, he’s also a part-timer at a restaurant and cooks a lot at home, making him a better cook than Yukino. Thanks to the meals he shares, Yukino starts to enjoy eating again.

Wanting to help him with a woman’s shoe design, Yukino removes her shoe and lets Akizuki hold and measure her bare foot, in an intimate, even sensual scene that also happens to be practical.

That intimacy is heightened by the made-for-a-couple sheltered-bench and the gorgeous environs. But while she’ll give him her foot, Yukino never talks about herself, her life, or her struggles, no matter how much Akizuki talks about his.

Unfortunately Akizuki has to find that out when he spots Yukino, or rather Yukino-sensei, at his school—she’s a teacher there. He had no idea of that, or that she’d been taking days off because the boyfriend of a student fell for her which led to unsavory rumors about her being promiscuous and verbal and emotional abuse from her upperclassmen students.

Yukino is pained to hear all this treatment, and that she’s quitting because of it, but likely also hurt that Yukino never told him anything, or that she could even possibly have known he was a student at the school but kept him in the dark.

Whatever the case, he decides the injustice done to Yukino should have a response from someone who has come to care about her, so he confronts the upperclassmen, starts a fight, and loses. After school, they meet at the gardens, but he doesn’t tell her he fought to protect her honor.

After giving her the correct answer to her tanka poem from their first encounter, Akizuki and Yukino find themselves caught in a torrential downpour, and even when they get back under cover, they’re both soaked.

They apparently take it as a good omen, and go to Yukino’s apartment, where they change into dry clothes, and while he’s waiting for his uniform to dry, Akizuki makes Yukino a delicious meal, both noting they’re having some of the happiest moments of their lives, right there and then.

Like the sunlight, it doesn’t last, and as the sky darkens with more rainclouds, a sudden confession of love from Akizuki is countered by Yukino correcting him: “Yukino-sensei”. Akizuki hears her loud and clear: he’s a kid; she’s not, and that’s the end of it. So he changes into his still-wet clothes and storms off, just as the storm outside picks up.

Yukino doesn’t want to leave things there, so after stewing, suddenly alone in her apartment, with even Akizuki’s coffee still steaming, she does the romantic movie thing where one comes to their senses, rushes out of the house, and chases after the one they love.

When she finds him paused on a balcony, he takes back his confession and starts spewing vitriol about her intentions, but later in the rant it becomes more about why she couldn’t simply tell him, a stupid little kid, to piss off and stop bothering her. Why she never said anything to him while sharing that bench.

Yukino’s response, also classic romantic movie, is to run into his arms and sob just as the sun peeks back out from between the clouds, finally telling him why she went to that bench again and again, and how being with him helped her “learn how to walk on her own” again; how he essentially saved her.

Yukino still moves out of that apartment, back to her hometown, where she’s still a teacher. But she later writes to Akizuki, and as he reads the letter in the park where they met and spent so much time and where they taught each other how to walk, he seriously considers going to her hometown someday to see her.

The Garden of Words is gorgeous, as is expected of a Shinkai film, with its near-photorealistic exteriors, lived-in interiors, and fantastic lighting and details all around. At just 46 minutes, it runs brisk but never feels rushed, but rather feels just as long as it should be.

It also felt like a particularly intimate/personal film, though not for the reason you’d expect: I once sat at the exact same bench in Shinjuku Gyoen they sat at, unhurriedly sketching the gardens and writing about my day (though as you can see, the real one has an ashtray.) If you’re ever there I highly recommend it, just as I recommend this lush and moving little film.

Advertisements

Dagashi Kashi – 11

dk111

Any DK segment with a healthy dose of Endou Saya is fine by me, and we get that in this week’s first segment, as Hotaru has her and Coco hide under a box so they can observe firsthand why Coco’s dad is so amazing.

Of course, due the the close quarters (and their adolescence), initially all Coco and Saya can think about is the face they’re so close together in a dark, confined space. Naturally Hotaru thinks nothing of this.

dk112

Somehow, Hotaru’s plan kinda works: You doesn’t notice that big box with peeping holes, but Coco comes to think a little higher of his old man after he sees how expertly he deals with a customer. Specifically, a young boy comes in with a girl he likes, but doesn’t have enough money to buy two pieces of Cola Gum.

Why doesn’t the boy just buy gum for her, then? I don’t know, but the girl seems ready to wash her hands of him right there when You suggests he unwrap the gum to see if he won another piece. He doesn’t, but he grabs the little insert and sayshe won, letting him take a second piece. The boy thinks he won, the girl is impressed; everyone’s happy.

This exchange reminds Saya of a time when she and Coco were that age, and she kept winning gum from unwrapping winning wrappers. She surmises that You was letting her win so she’d have more fun, but Coco knows better: Saya has scary good luck when it comes to candy; as good as Hotaru’s is bad. If only Saya had as good luck with Coco!

dk113

The next segment starts leisurely with Coco and Hotaru waiting for the next train after just missing the previous one. Hotaru, in her typical blithely oblivious way suggests passing the time by “sucking on something.” Whoa there, Coco: she’s just talking about suckable kombu (seaweed).

While not technically a candy, neither are a lot of the snacks at Coco’s store. But Miyako Kombu was developed to be sold in a place with lots of people coming in and out all the time; i.e. a train station. After the history lesson, Hotaru’s mouth is parched due to all the talking she’s done, so breaks out a refreshing Ramune.

dk114

After offering Coco some (and inadvertently, an indirect kiss as well), he mentions that “Ramune” is a Japanese bastardization of “Lemonade” brought to Japan by Commodore Perry back in the 1850s.

Underwhelmed by the roteness of his story, Hotaru takes the history lesson to the next level, in a hilarious reenactment in which Perry talks in the manner of a contemporary hoodlum, and in which she credits his ramune with convincing the Japanese to open their borders to international trade, despite having plenty of their own problems.

This was a ludicrously funny little bit, punctuated by the disturbing sight of Hotaru’s face morphing into Perry’s as she imitates his voice.

dk115

All that aside, the reason for the train journey comes up. Coco needs art supplies; Hotaru wants to go on a candy shopping spree. As it turns out, only Hotaru boards the train, as if leaving for good, suddenly giving the scene—and the episode—a welcome bit of serialization.

Hotaru tells Coco she knows he has his own aspirations in life, and doesn’t want to force him to succeed his dad’s shop. But forcing and persuading are two different approaches to achieving the same end.

Having stayed in town these past eleven weeks (or however long it’s been by the show’s calendar), Hotaru quite suddenly decides to leave it up to Coco to contact her when he’s made a decision. She’ll be waiting…only she just didn’t bother to tell him where.

7_ses

Dagashi Kashi – 10

dk101

This week’s DK starts off with a little mystery, as Tou is confronted by an out-of-breath, distraught Hotaru who has been running in her stocking feet, takes Tou’s hands, and begs him for help. But with what? What is her big issue? And where are her shoes?

dk102

After the credits, we’re in Coco’s store, only Hotaru isn’t there. She hasn’t come by for two days, which to Coco isn’t just bizarre; it’s a little scary. When he doesn’t find her at Saya’s cafe either, the two pay a visit to Hotaru’s massive house for the first time, and find Hotaru in her pajamas and a surgical mask, looking very much the worse for wear.

dk103

They mystery deepens as Hotaru seems to freak out whenever she sees Coco’s face. And while she seems interested in the snacks he brought for her, she always ends up recoiling in fear, and can’t complete a sentence without wincing in pain multiple times.

Turns out the mouth ulcer she had last week—and continued to torture with pop rocks and the like—has only gotten worse, swelling her cheek to a ludicrous degree.

dk104

When pressed for answers, Hotaru tells them the tale that led to her encounter with Tou the other night. She used Pop-a-Fortunes to try to wish for her mouth to heal before a new Baby Ramen flavor release, but the candy instead tells her to go on an “outing”, which she goes on immediately (without putting on her shoes).

That led her to Tou, who gave her advice to abstain from candy until her mouth fully heals. That way, the candy will taste even better, since absence makes the heart (and stomach) grow fonder and all that. The only problem is, that abstinence has led to candy withdrawal.

dk105

When Hotaru just can’t hold back anymore, she has to be physically restrained by both Coco and Saya. Her cuckoo clock snaps her out of her trance, letting her know to take her disgusting-looking but lovely-smelling homemade medicine.

That “medicine” turns out to be the culprit behind her increasingly huge mouth ulcer: it’s made from a combination of powdered pine, melon, and “American Cola” drink mixes. In other words, it’s pure sugar.

Upon learning Hotaru’s cure (and her candy abstinence) is a sham, they take off, leaving her to continuing drinking her nasty—and very harmful—witch’s brew. But what’s the daughter of a candy company to do?

7_ses

Dagashi Kashi – 09

dk91

This week brings back evenly-spaced variety and some interesting candy, all consumed while Hotaru is nursing a pretty bad canker sore (mouth ulcer). Of course, Hotaru has no idea how she got it, and when Saya suggests the obvious—too much candy—Hotaru swiftly laughs it off and pops the equivalent of cotton candy with Pop Rocks in her mouth.

This marks the return of “Candy POV” in DK, in which two of the straggler bits of explosive rock linger on her tongue, saying their heartfelt goodbyes before popping, causing a cascade of sharp pain. However, once it’s all over, Hotaru says it feels great. There’s a fine line between pleasure and pain.

dk92

The discomfort becomes more mental than physical for Saya as she innocently points out a cute cartoon animal package that turns out to be the new hit product for primary schoolers: UnChoco (or PoopChoco), little grape-chocolate balls that are “pooped” out of a hole in the back.

Saya thinks she and Hotaru are a little too old for such things, so Hotaru classes it up by creating a mature lady’s al fresco tea party atmosphere, belying the fundamental immaturity of eating what are essentially candy turds. Hotaru never makes the connection (despite saying poop repeatedly); instead, she likens the candy to eggs being laid.

dk93

Since no one character can withstand an entire episode alone with Hotaru’s hijinx (hojinx?) Saya is swapped out for Koko at the midpoint, and he’s perplexed to find her eating a bowl of rice (the canker sore goes unmentioned here, but we still see it; it’s not going away in a candy store!)

The reason Hotaru is eating rice is because the sweet and sour taste of Sakura Daikon makes her want to. She also decides to confess to Koko that she’s from Osaka, and has always been hiding a Kansai dialect. However, her Kansai-ed-out exclamations feel a bit forced to Koko (not to mention really irritating), so he’s not surprised when she confesses she isn’t actually from Osaka.

dk94

This entire episode takes place in the Shikada storeroom, which technically makes it a “bottle episode”, but the final segment involves not the bottle, but the breast.

Hotaru asks Koko straight-up what he thinks of boobs, and he initially responds as if Hotaru were a normal girl – that they’re no big deal to him. Incidentally, this line would have worked well on Saya, who, while not necessarily normal herself, doesn’t need Koko to be boob-crazed considering her bust size.

But because it’s Hotaru, she nearly storms out at his measured response. He quickly reverses his opinion, and she presents him with tamago ice cream, which she calls “boob ice cream”, but which he’s always called “bomb” ice cream.

In one of the more raunchily suggestive sequences of the show to date, both nicknames are validated, first when Hotaru squishes the ball like a boob, then when the balls explode like bombs, releasing melted vanilla ice cream all over the place, making Hotaru’s clothes see-through. Call it mutual understanding through confectionary…er…release.

7_ses

Nisekoi 2 – 10

nis101

Nisekoi 2’s intense episodic nature means we’re never quite sure what we’re going to get from week to week, and considering the success of other rom-coms with more serialized format, often leave us feeling like it’s taking the wrong approach. But this week demonstrated that when it wants to, Nisekoi can do a lot in just one week.

nis103

Submitted for your approval: four-eyed class clown and horndog Maiko Shuu actually gets DIMENSION, and gets to make more than just sly cat faces! I sure didn’t see that coming, but once it got going I was not complaining.

nis1030

While they go way back, Shuu has always been far better at hiding who he likes than Raku, whom Shuu knows full well loves Onodera. All Shuu gives away at first about his love is that she’s an “unattainable flower” who will ultimately break his heart. Raku bounces this idea off of Tsugumi of all people, which is perfect because she happens to be in the very situation he’s presenting to her as a hypothetical.

Fortunately for Tsugumi, Raku is far to dense to pick up on the source of her embarrassment, but Tsugumi ultimately treats his questions with respect, telling him she’d probably never tell that unattainable person how she felt, lest she cause trouble for him; matching Shuu’s position on the matter.

nis102

One can make the case that Tsugumi’s unattainable love is Raku, assuming what she’s feeling for him is love (something she’s not at all sure of). But Shuu’s love is the teacher, Kyoko-sensei, who suddenly drops the hammer that she’s getting married and quitting teaching.

Shuu reacts to the news with a big smile and lots of laughter and hearty congratulations, but inside he’s devastated. And yet, because it was the older Kyoko who told him he was the most mature of the guys in his class, he’s apparently determined never to tell Kyoko his feelings—something he may regret—but will instead live with that regret, like adults sometimes must do.

nis104

Shuu-as-Raku’s-mirror works surprisingly well throughout the episode, especially as the perennial Best Girl Chitoge and clingy Marika are all but absent this week. We can focus instead on the triangle of Tsugumi, Raku, and Kosaki. Raku’s affection for Kosaki is so strong, merely thinking of her being married off to some other guy makes him cough up black stuff and does significant damage to his soul. Heck, I felt pretty awful about that dark fantasy!

Yet, when Raku gathers himself, he can indeed see himself living life under those circumstances, as long as Kosaki is happy. That’s when Tsugumi flags him down, eager to clarify her responses. She maintains that she could see herself never confessing to that hypothetical guy and choosing to live with that, but that doesn’t mean she wants to…nor does it mean she can.

nis105

That settles things for Raku, who clarifies his position to Shuu: he’ll stand by whatever decision he makes, including not confessing to Kyoko. But he’ll also give Shuu a push if asked. Shuu asks, Raku pushes him, and he manages to catch Kyoko right before a taxi drives her out of his life. We can’t hear their exchange, only the pounding rain, but we don’t have to: Shuu gets the gentle rejection he knew he’d get. Even when Raku worries he meddled too much, Ryuu is thankful for his push.

nis106

That push was made possible by Tsugumi, and led to Raku giving himself a push by asking Kosaki, who was looking all over school worried about him, to walk home with him, not because anything is wrong, but because he feels like it. Kosaki is initially shocked by his forwardness, but still accepts, as readily as Kyoko rejects Shuu. You can’t spend your youth wallowing in unpleasant hypotheticals: you gotta enjoy!

That brings us to the final piece of the puzzle this week: Ruri. Frankly, I thought we’d see more of her this week than we ended up seeing, but what we got was still pretty good, as the episode was peppered with moments of her love-hate relationship with Shuu and her status as an attainable—but up-till-now under-noticed—flower in Shuu’s life.

8_ses

Sket Dance 22

The principal comissions a picture play targeted at children, and the Sket-dan decide to use Momotaro as a template. However, Bossun and Switch create a random, rambling tale that isn’t suitable for anyone, let alone children, and is summarily rejected. Later, the principal asks the Sket-dan to babysit his rich, standoffish grandson, and find he’s immune to their charms…until they go outside and make him play baseball.

The thing about parodies is, if you aren’t familiar with the source material, it’s hard to know exactly what’s going on or why it should be funny. I don’t know anything about Momotaro, and yet the Sket-dan’s parody was still funny because it was so wildly ridiculous in its presentation. Himeko’s constant feedback was also entertaining.

The second segment is funny because it shows how zany and immature Sket-dan can be, and how maturity sometimes has nothing to do with age. Yoshihiko may be ten or so, but he may as well be forty. He doesn’t have friends or fun like kids his age should. He even fears getting his expensive clothes dirty if he plays. So it’s good that Bossun & Co. were eventually able to coax the kid into a semblance of a childhood.


Rating: 3