Combatting urban isolation
Finding solace in The Garden of Words
Text by Grace Han
Since the 1970s, a “retro-boom” has blossomed in urban Japan [Creighton 241]. High rise apartments and chrome cubicles no longer provide a sense of satisfaction, pushingthe modern-day urbanite to flee to the countryside. What the urbanite seeks, however, lies not within a geographical space, but within a sentiment seemingly absent in the man-made space: amae. Described by anthropologist Millie Creighton as a feeling of community and stability, amae is the essence that makes a home feel like home [Creighton 243]. In lieu of this movement of urban escapism, Makoto Shinkai’s 2013 film Garden of Words echoes the resounding cry for the city’s “homeless”, those seeking amae. This feeling cannot exist in the ever-changing buildings of man, but rather can only exist in the relative consistency of nature – thereby developing the irony that man may only truly feel at home when torn from a manmade environment.
The secret garden
Garden of Words features a student-teacher romance in modern-day Tokyo. The student Takao Akizuki (Miyu Irino) stands emotionally distant from both his friends and family; he regularly misses class, his brother moves out of the house, and his mother spirals into alcoholism. One day, when he ditches school, he meets his romantic interest Yukari Yukino (Kana Hanazawa) at a gazebo in Shinjuku Gyoen. She, too, suffers in solitude; she lives by herself, has recently broken up with her partner, and avoids teaching at school after being bullied. One rainy morning, the two chance upon each other in a gazebo in Shinjuku Gyoen. They decide to meet each morning it rains, and from there their secret meetings in the gardens provide their only outlet for real human contact. Their trust grows so much within the gardens that they reveal their deepest secrets and highest dreams, untold to anyone else before. As such, the gardens become the crux of their amae. They anoint the gardens as their home outside of home, as the couple comes to realize that their urban living spaces and the gazebo cannot fulfill their desire for a home the same way nature can.