The Garden of Words (which is known as Kotonoha no Niwa in Japan) is an anime film directed by Makoto Shinkai, and it was released to Japanese theaters on May 31, 2013. Sentai Filmworks holds the North American distribution rights to the film, and the company released it on home video in August 2013.

The Garden of Words
Directed by: Makoto Shinkai
Written by: Makoto Shinkai
Starring: Miyu Irino, Kana Hanazawa, and Fumi Hirano
Run Time: 46 minutes

The Garden of Words focuses on a 15-year-old high school boy named Takao, and he dreams of becoming a shoe designer. On rainy days, he will skip his morning classes and go to a garden in order to sketch shoes. One day when he goes, he sees an older woman who is sitting in the garden and she’s eating chocolate and drinking beer. From the way she’s dressed, he surmises that she must work as some kind of professional.

Every time he goes back to the garden after this, he keeps encountering her. They start to talk and strike up a friendship, and Takao decides that he wants to make a pair of shoes for her. Takao realizes that he’s falling in love with this older woman, but when he does, the rainy season is coming close to an end. Near the end of the film, we learn the truth about who the woman is and why she kept going to the garden.

To me, the strongest part of this film, and the part that stood out to me the most is the animation. The backgrounds in this piece are very lush, and at some points look almost realistic. I especially thought the scenes that focused on the rain also looked spectacular. The character designs also look nice, although there were times when I thought that Takao looked a little older than 15.

When it comes to the story itself, it utilized its roughly 50 minute runtime well. The story didn’t feel too rushed, and it didn’t feel like Shinkai was stretching any sections of the story out in order to lengthen the piece.

For the actual story, I will give Shinkai some credit for the fact that he presented an entire story, and that the film didn’t feel as if it abruptly ended. But in the long run, I didn’t think the story of The Garden of Words was quite as strong as the story of Children Who Chase Lost Voices. I also found myself not connecting with these characters as much as I hoped I would when I decided to watch this film. I found this to be especially true when a very emotional scene between Takao and the woman appears near the end of the film, and I wasn’t as moved by it as I normally would be when I see a scene like that.

I think fans of Shinkai and his works will enjoy and get a lot out of The Garden of Words. It’s not a bad film, especially for one that’s under an hour, but it just didn’t grab me like a film such as this normally would. In the end, what I personally enjoyed most about this film were the beautiful animation and the song used in the ending credits.

When it comes to the DVD release, Sentai Filmworks released The Garden of Words as a two-disc set. The first disc includes the film, Japanese commentary on the film, English commentary on the film, and trailers for the properties that Sentai was promoting at the time this DVD was released.

The second disc includes four bonus features. The first is “Interviews,” which runs for almost 53 minutes. This feature includes interviews with the Japanese voice actor for Takao, the Japanese voice actress for the older woman, and Makoto Shinkai. Over the course of this feature, they talk about the characters in the film, how Shinkai cast the voices, recording in the studio, about some of the lines in the film, working with Shinkai, about the ending song and the music in the film, and about the setting of the film. This is a pretty standard interview feature for a Makoto Shinkai work. However, there are times during this feature where you can see jump cuts in the middle of someone’s response. I suspect that whoever compiled the interviews together wanted to cut something out.

The second feature is labeled as “Storyboards,” and this is a storyboard version of the film. “English Production Skills” is five minutes in length, and it contains photos from the recording session for the English dub. There’s no audio for this feature, just text that’s placed on the screen with the photos.

“Japanese Trailer” includes two Japanese trailers for The Garden of Words. One is one minute in length, the other is about a minute and a half. The trailers have Japanese audio with English subtitles. The final extra is “The Works of Makoto Shinkai,” and this runs for nine minutes. These are previews combined with text screens for each work. Included in this feature are Voices of a Distant Star, The Place Promised in Our Early Days, 5 cm per Second, Children Who Chase Lost Voices, and The Garden of Words.

Personally, I can only truly recommend this DVD release to fans of Shinkai’s work who want to have all of his works in their anime home video collection.

Additional reviews of Makoto Shinkai’s work: