The Garden of Words

The feature Makoto Shikai made before the phenomenally successful Your Name has come on Netflix. It’s 45 mins long, and the irony of a precocious teenager teaching some life lessons to an older woman is evident even before the big reveal halfway through: that the woman is in fact a teacher at the boy’s school. A second irony is added when the teacher is hounded out of her job by false allegations of seducing a student. The repercussions of that accusation is what puts her in danger of seducing a student for real.

These ironies don’t lead anywhere, and perhaps they don’t have to. Watching this after Your Name, it’s evident that Shinkai has an interest in star-crossed lovers brought together and torn apart by fate, a force given an almost physical presence by the photorealistic hyperreal animation. It’s manipulative – a reliance on these tricks is why I dislike Wong Kai-Wai so much. For some reason, Shinaki’s equivalent is more tolerable, perhaps because we get under the skin of his characters to a greater extent than the detached cool of Wong’s lost urbanites.

Like Your Name, The Garden of Words ends on two characters on a set of stairs finally recognising each other. It’s a climax that Wong refuses to grant his viewers, and his films end up feeling emptier as a result. This, on the other hand, is generous, well-paced, and satisfying, despite the open-ended finale.

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