To Walk Again: On Love In Shinkai’s Anime

Narukami no sukoshi toyomite
(A faint clap of thunder)

sashi kumori
(Clouded skies)

Ame mo furanu ka?
(Perhaps rain comes)

Kimi wo todomemu
(If so, will you stay here with me?)

Fate, sometimes, begets in itself the funniest stories as well as the most melancholic ones. It writes its own comedies and tragedies. The way we interpret it, however, is what finalises the effect fate has on us.

Makoto Shinkai is a giant in the world of anime. Deservedly and frequently does he get compared to Miyazaki; a genius in the field. I do not wish to compare two of the most amazing anime directors. Their work and their storytelling have always touched a chord in my heart; a reaction spanning all of the people who have watched their movies.

Shinkai is, however, criticised due to his lack of versatility in approaching the themes of stories. Most of his stories pertain to separation and love, requited or otherwise. Garden of Words, one of his works, is not any different. However, the multitude of perspectives that went behind the making of the story’s concept is what makes the story stand out, in the midst of a plethora of influential anime films.

Garden of Words sets up an atmosphere which most of us can relate to on a superficial level. Shinkai has never been afraid to work on stuff he personally connects to, as a result of which three things come forth in his films as defining motifs: train, rain, and pain, strangely enough they rhyme too. Garden of words interweaves a beautiful love story between the two protagonists and despite their mutual feelings for each other, they remain visibly disconnected from each other. They remain separated by the immense difference in age that exists between the two of them. 27-year-old, Yukari Yukino is a teacher in the same school as the 15-year-old Takao Akizuki, albeit unbeknownst to him.

On a fine rainy day, both of them chance upon each other in a Japanese-themed garden where they both had sought refuge from the rain. The two share a moment of connectedness. Yukino leaves him, after sharing with him a cryptic tanka (a short Japanese poem). Yukino and Takao end up forming a connection and start meeting each time it rains.

Things turn topsy-turvy when Yukino is wrongfully accused of being involved in a relationship with a student. She is in a soup herself, left with feelings of remorse and shame even though she had done no wrong.

Takao is an aspiring shoemaker. He comes from a broken family; having been abandoned by their mother, he and his elder brother lived together. Takao is a responsible human despite being a mere high school student, he assumes a part-time job in order to ensure ends meet. Takao, helps Yukino ‘to walk again’ and get back up on her feet. His affection and bond with Yukino make him resolve to make a shoe for her, a project he works passionately and dedicatedly for. Love is the central theme that runs throughout the story. Ultimately, the rainy season is over and despite wanting each other’s company, they both hesitate to meet. Takao still continues to work on the shoe. On one particular day, he realises how Yukino is a teacher in his school and has been wrongfully accused of something that she did not even commit. Takao decides to take it upon himself to resolve the issue, and ends up getting involved in a fight. 

One certain day, Takao and Yukino get a chance to meet up again. In the midst of a conversation, Takao confesses his love for her. Yukino, unable to process it, makes him realise that she is still technically his teacher. Takao and Yukino share their feelings with each other but realise the limitations of their own understanding and that of society.

Garden of Words provides a unique perspective, a tale of love, which is unrequited and beautiful in its own way. It was Takao’s behaviour towards her, and his compassion, respect and love that ultimately heals Yukino. This story makes one introspect upon a form of love that was much popularised by the philosopher Plato himself: platonic love. There are no boundaries, no restrictions and no limitations in platonic love and every form of expressing this love is pure, considerate and understandable. Garden of Words gives us a look into a world of people to whom we can relate, beings we can understand and sympathise with. It makes us realise the harshness with which society conditions us and shapes our views.

Separation is the ultimate form of connection because it provides a reason for two people to connect, and know each others’ places in their lives better than ever. Garden of Words, with its sensitively structured soundtracks and breathtaking animation, helps us make a connection in separation. A separation of ages does not restrict a human from pacifying and helping the other person ‘learn to walk again’. Japanese culture is founded on the principles of mutual respect, understanding and love. The story provides us with that and more. One must learn to enjoy the things one takes for granted, take the opportunity to understand someone better and maybe heal them as well as ourselves in the process.

Perhaps the world is a cold place and all we have is ourselves, and the crucial key to understanding our own selves is to understand the ones who need our help. Maybe we are all Takao, living in a broken, mundane, disjunctive world but we can still always try to find someone like ourselves, broken and battered and unable to walk, and learn to walk together. 

Instead of trying to search for the love that we seek all our lives, we can try to help one another and seek acceptance within ourselves. After all, “We all are humans, we all have our own quirks, don’t we?”

Udayon Sen

Udayon Sen is an aspiring polymath who adores Michael Stevens but certainly has better hair than him (hopefully). He studies Computer Engineering, along with every other course he can study, just to accumulate enough for himself to spread the word.

The Pangean does not condemn or condone any of the views of its contributors. It only gives them the space to think and write without hindrance.