This past weekend, Makoto Shinkai’s latest hit film『君の名は』(Kimi no Na wa) or Your Name in English, has finally been released in theaters throughout the United States. Having released last year in Japan, the film has become Japan’s #1 film of 2016 and has more recently surpassed legendary Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away as the highest grossing anime film of all time. For those unfamiliar, Makoto Shinkai has been called “The New Miyazaki” due to his talent in animation, stunning visuals and portrayal of emotional themes. To celebrate the release of his recent film, I have chosen to write about one of his works in relation to the themes of our class. In particular, I would like to discuss『言の葉の庭』(Kotonoha no Niwa) or The Garden of Words in English, and its theme of isolation.
The Garden of Words opens during the rainy season in Tokyo with the chance meeting of 15-year-old student and aspiring shoemaker, Takao, and Yukino, a 27-year-old woman who is skipping work in favor of enjoying chocolate and beer. Despite coming from different age groups and social positions, both Takao and Yukino share in a lack of meaningful connections with their friends and peers. With a single mother who cares about her love life more than her family and an unsupportive brother who views his shoe-making as eccentric, Takao unconsciously searches for someone he can share his passion with. Bullied at work and not feeling any cleverer than her 15-year-old self, Yukino unconsciously searches for someone that understands and treats her as a person. Throughout the film, the two continue to encounter each other on rainy mornings and gradually form a companionship—in their garden of words.
[A faint clap of thunder,
Perhaps rain will come.
If so, will you stay here with me?]
Yukino in The Garden of Words
from Man’yōshū, Book 11, verse 2,513
While many viewers may mistake this film as a love story at first glance, it isn’t—it is a story of two individuals who has given each other perspective of the world they must accept. Takao is captivated by the woman’s wisdom and how she seems to embody “the secrets of the world”. Yukino, on the other hand is envious that the boy has dreams he wants to accomplish. It is through isolation from society that their desires become evident and lives begin to change. Takao and Yukino both realize that they cling to each other for support, but if they continue to isolate themselves from society, they would never be able to move on in their lives—to find the shoes to walk forward.
Similarly in our class readings of Mary Shelley’s The Last Man and Shakespeare’s The Tempest, the characters come to new understandings in isolation. In The Last Man, humanity’s numbers begin to dwindle because of the plague. This causes those remaining to realize the feeble value of materialism and how invaluable human life is. In The Tempest, Caliban was always alone until Prospero and Miranda were banished to the same island. Through his confrontation with them, Caliban not only is exposed to people for the first time, but is also educated in their ways. Although not as positive of a change, Caliban comes to see Prospero as an usurper and grows to resent him.
To emphasize the theme of isolation in the film, rain is used as a motif for loneliness. Although rain is typically depicted as sad and gloomy, in the film it brings much more vividness to the scenery. Using it as an excuse to go to the garden, the rain protects the two main characters from society’s limitations and the reality of their lives. To go along with the idea that the rain represents their status of isolation, the tanka (a form of Japanese poetry) that Yukino recites is a plea for someone to stay with her, even when she is no longer lonely. To this, Takao responds with the second verse:
[A faint clap of thunder,
Even if rain comes or not,
I will stay here,
Together with you.]
Takao in The Garden of Words
from Man’yōshū, Book 11, verse 2,514
“The Garden of Words” Official Japanese Trailer (subtitles are available)
Information on Shinjuku Gyoen (the park where the film takes place)
Lovely cover of Rain (the film’s theme song)
“Your Name” Official English Dub Trailer (currently available in theaters)
“Your Name” Official Japanese Trailer Subtitled (Japanese with subtitles are also available in select theaters)