Garden of Words by Makoto Shinkai – watch it in the rain


I took a long time to watch Garden of Words. It sat on my hard drive for about a year before I finally sat down to watch it. I’d tried before several times but just a few minutes in, I realised each time that it was not the right time. Makoto’s works are masterpieces of sadness and emotion that must be appreciated at just the right moment.

Today it was raining in Saigon. I was feeling sad. There was too much distance in my life. Distance from my family. Distance from my wife. Distance from my dreams. All kinds of distance. And I guess something told me that the time was right to finally watch it. Because Makoto’s stories are all about the distance between people.

I’ve always wanted to meet Makoto Shinkai and ask him, “Why are your stories always about the same theme ? Why do you always write about the emotional, physical and chronological distance between people ? What made you this way ? You are a happily married man to my knowledge, yet you write about such desperate loss of love. What happened in your life or what is it that you see around you that makes you choose such tragic themes ?”

From his first short films, he has written stories about the distance that separates us. Time, sickness, age, locality and even death itself. When I hear people ask “What is the saddest anime ?”, I laugh when the answer is often “Clannad” or “Air” or “Kanon”. I call Key, the studio who created these together with Kyoto Animation, the “loli killers” because their stories are always about the same thing; a young girl who dies tragically and leaves behind someone who loves her, leaving the viewer in a puddle of tears.

But anyone can build up affection for a character and then kill them off. That takes no skill at all. Create a cute, innocent female character and then have them die of some incurable sickness. That’s Key’s blueprint for successful anime releases. Hell, even some of the greatest live action movies also follow this pattern. I give special credit to Koizora: Sky of Love, because it is believed to be the true and autobiographical story of the anonymous author, but it is still a story about death. And I give precisely zero to A Walk to Remember because seriously, when you hold those two very similarly themed movies up together, Walk is just mild in comparison. The attachment you feel to the characters is not even close to what you feel in Koizora, especially when you know in advance that it’s reputedly a true story.

People cry over many more things than just death though. The thing human beings cry about the most is heartbreak. When their relationship ends for whatever reason and they feel empty inside, like a blank piece of paper on which they are unable to find the words on which to write. But how many movies truly portray this in a way that makes us cry ?

To be able to make the viewer feel that their heart has been torn out of their chest and stomped on by showing them a story of a couple torn apart by things beyond their control. To make them cry because they understand the feelings of yearning for what you cannot have. To make them cry because they know what it’s like to look back wistfully on a love that is romanticised in your memory but which you cannot return to. That takes talent. That’s Shakespearean-level talent at tragedy.


Fortunately talent is something that Makoto has in abundance. Both in story-writing and in animation. “Garden” has the most simple premise imaginable; a teenage boy skips school to spend time in the park during the rain, meeting an older woman who later turns out to be a teacher at his school… and who leaves to move far away just after he confesses his love for her. The story is short. So short it made me angry. I wanted to pummel Makoto with my fists when the credits rolled and say “WHY ? Why did it have to end HERE ?”

But Makoto’s stories are not about endings. They are about the moments that we live in. The moments when we sit watching the rain fall into puddles, dripping off leaves as the light reflects off the glistening water and it slides down panes of glass in erratic patterns as we stare through them. And that is something that Garden captures so beautifully.

I say “beautifully” because there is no word I write find that would describe how incredible this film is to look at. I could tell you it’s breathtaking or magnificent or a joy to behold in every single frame. But still would not convey to you the beauty. This is animation so beautiful that you will look at every millisecond of it without drawing a breath lest you somehow concentrate too much on breathing and not enough on appreciating it.


Visual masterpiece is a phrase used far too often to be used on a work such as this. You can only see it. If you want to see the absolute pinnacle of animated works in the entire history of animation, you would have to see this film.

But to be not only the greatest feast for the eyes that has ever been made, but also a heart-breakingly emotional story as well is even more special. But it is not a story. It has no ending… no plot… no antagonist or hero. It is just a snapshot of life.

Do you want to see Tokyo in the rain in a way that you will never see it in real life ? Then watch Garden of Words. Some might describe it not so much as a story but as the most beautiful screen saver you’ve ever seen. But maybe they just don’t understand the emotions being portrayed through even just the images of rain. Short on dialogue and almost totally bereft of story, it will still leave a lasting impression on you.

Better yet, watch it in the rain. Maybe people won’t notice your tears that way.



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