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Jakarta Post

Love in a Japanese garden

  • Cynthia Webb

    The Jakarta Post

Gold Coast, Australia   /   Sun, June 2, 2013   /  04:11 pm
Love in a Japanese garden

A scene from Makoto Shinkai'€™s new anime, The Garden of Words (Kotonoha no Niwa).

For the world premiere of his film, 40-year-old director Makoto Shinkai confessed to a full-house of anime fans, including many Japanese people, that he felt nervous.

He said he would be very interested to hear the audience'€™s comments after the screening of his newest film, The Garden of Words (Kotonoha no Niwa), at the Gold Coast Film Festival.

The festival'€™s audience was honoured to see the film a month early during his first and one day visit to Australia. The release date in Japan is at the end of May.

Makoto has been called '€œthe new Hayao Miyazaki'€. However, his films have a different mood, being rather intense, personal and sometimes with a melancholy feeling. They are more suited to an audience of teenagers and adults.

His own favorite anime film is by Miyazaki, Laputa: Castle in the Sky, from 1986.

His new work, The Garden of Words, concerns a couple who fall in love during the rainy season in Japan.  They meet while sheltering from the rain in a large park in the center of Tokyo. Both should be elsewhere '€” her at her office, and him at school.  

The young man, Takao, is a 15-year-old high school student, and the woman remains an enigma for the first part of the story. She says little, and when she does speak she'€™s evasive, or quoting poetry.

Makoto ShinkaiMakoto ShinkaiTakao has a secret ambition to become a designer of shoes, and while sitting in the shelter in the park, he draws shoes, and draws the feet of his new acquaintance.

They share food and words and he tells her of his ambition. They each begin waiting for rainy days, in the hope of meeting again. The subject is controversial. Miss Yukino is revealed to be 27 years old.

The only time they touch is an intimate moment '€” when she allows him to measure her foot, to create her handmade shoes and in their last encounter after he bravely declares his love, when she hugs him and tells him that she loves him too.

But she tells him that she is going away to another city, and so he is left alone and longing, but coming to terms with their situation. It is a love that cannot be, hence a source of koi.

The director explained that the film contains a lot of traditional Japanese cultural ideas, including the subject of koi '€” a longing and love felt in solitude.  

In Japan, the concept of romantic love and marriage has come relatively recently, with the modernisation and Westernisation of ideas.

Takao makes a pair of shoes for her that he hopes will assist her to find the right path in life, but resolves to find her again someday.

The rain is a symbol of unfulfilled longing, and this woman is a teacher of classical Japanese literature, so she sometimes speaks to him in old classical poems '€” Haiku and Tanka.

'€œI worked really hard to cut out everything unnecessary,'€ said Makoto of the film, which runs for only 46 minutes.

In 2007, his 5 Centimetres per Second won the animation category award at the Asia Pacific Screen Awards at Gold Coast.  He also gained a nomination at the Asia Pacific Screen Awards (APSA) 2011, for Children Who Chase Lost Voices. Another of his features was entitled The Place Promised in our Early Days ( 2004 ).

Makoto explained that as he grew older, married and became a father, he came to understand that love is like rain '€” it just comes from the nature of things and cannot be controlled.

Makoto'€™s anime films are known for vivid and detailed scenic art direction, a vibrant color palette, and yet in this film, because of the rainy scenes and the melancholy subject, the color was toned down and he used pale green shadows to give that cool, sad feeling of wet days.

He said he was inspired to portray the beautiful park in Tokyo, which he loves, after the earthquake in March 2011. He realized that it could be destroyed one day, and this was his way of keeping it forever.

The beauty of Japanese anime is that the work still begins hand drawn.  

Once the key animation stage is complete the artwork is digitized and the process continues with the aid of a team of artists and computers.

As well as functioning as director, Makoto did the storyboards, key animation, the composite (a crucial part of the process) and also the editing. And he wrote the original story.

Makoto prefers to include intricate detail into the backgrounds, but the figures are simply drawn, however the characters come across strongly. The backgrounds of the city skyline, the train lines, the trees and lakes in the park, the thundery sky '€” all are richly detailed.  

His advice to any aspiring anime filmmaker is: '€œJust do it! Motivation is the key. Make a short film in your own way and that will get you to the next stage'€.

'€” Photos courtesy of the Gold Coast Film Festival/Makoto Shinkai