With the highly anticipated digital and DVD release of writer-director Makoto Shinkai’s Weathering with You just around the corner, I thought it might be fun to check out another of his anime films, The Garden of Words. Although on the one hand Garden can be considered a great story, it’s also a giant mis-step in storytelling and knowing one’s audience. Spoilers and much negativity ahead.
As with Weathering with You and also, Shinkai’s previously popular Your Name, the artistry in Garden is amazing. Rain, storms, any sort of weather, really, gives the illustrators the chance to really show off what they can do. It is a feast for the eyes. The trouble here is the story, or rather the ages of the people in the story, or rather that it involves a high school student and an older woman…who works at his school.
Let me explain, and I’m by no means the final opinion on this, but sometimes one has to know the waters into which they are dipping their toes. Maybe Japan embraced this storyline and didn’t think anything of it, but for American audiences, this story is a turn off due to not only the age gap, but to the fact that the 27-year-old woman works at the teenager’s high school. Why does she end up leaving her job? Accusations–wrong, but still–accusations of inappropriate behavior with the students. Talk about a storyline in which you are all but assured you’ll be misunderstood.
People are often uncomfortable with relatively harmless stories like Big starring Tom Hanks, a comedy where a kid gets to experience being grown up for a time. Despite the funny, rather endearing story, there’s a serious creep factor involved in having any sort of relationship that’s not a family relationship between a child or teenager and an older person. It’s a truth that cannot be avoided. In the past, sometimes teenagers were thought of as adults, but for many countries they are now considered children, no matter how mature they may be for their age. Artists today continually pick at this boundary, trying to make something palatable in the main stream which should not be. Quite a lot is at stake regarding this. Great harm can come to children and teenagers because of it. Monsters prey on teenagers and children precisely because they are too young to truly understand how they are being manipulated.
Even one of my favorite dramas, High School King of Savvy starring Seo In Guk, weirds people out, though in that he’s the American equivalent of 18, pretends to be ten years older for much of the story, and great pains are taken to show how mature and responsible he his. It would just be a more comfortable story if the character was, say, in college, but then it wouldn’t be as funny. Although the romance was done well, it’s just an uncomfortable story all around.
In the teenage world, even a year can be a big difference. When dealing with teenagers having any sort of relationship with an older stranger, one must consider first that this will be a turn off to the audience, and rightly so. Making the character as young as 15 is not a wise choice. It’s a mis-step, because the likelihood that you and your story will be misunderstood is very high. Again, I don’t know a whole lot about Japan or Japanese culture, but the director here doesn’t help himself in the slightest. He very much makes their relationship romantic–a beautiful rainy garden, facing a storm together, quoting poetry, him tracing her feet, the boy mistaking what they have for romantic love, and so on.
It’s a story meant to show a connection between two strangers. Sometimes when one is extremely lonely, it is a complete stranger who fills that void and becomes a badly needed companion, but due to the age gap of the characters and the fact that she works at his school–I think she’s a counselor or something–it’s just, again, a great mis-step. To his credit, the young man gets rightly angry when he finds out she works at his school and didn’t tell him. Shinkai may think that what he’s asking of his audience is to appreciate a connection of companionship between strangers, but in reality, that’s just not what he presented. A lonely, alienated from both friends and family teenager is exactly who adult pedophiles pray on, and women commit this sin just as men do. I talk about this more a bit further on.
Let me take a break to give some background involving a newer phenomenon surrounding pedophilia and what the media calls conspiracy theory. To me, the term conspiracy theory is a made up term created to stop people questioning certain things. One of those things that people really need to start questioning, is what the rich and powerful do with all that money and time. Because many are involved in human trafficking and the sex slave trade.
Have you heard of Q-anon? That whole Q thing is entirely about good people battling the pedophiles. Supposedly President Trump and certain people in military intelligence are breaking up pedophile networks around the world. This is something you can actually look up. Since Trump took office, there have indeed been a very high number of people caught doing these things and there have been many, many children saved, all around the world.
Believe that’s Trump’s aim or not, I thought it pertinent to mention, because the other aspect of this is the still-under-the-radar slow push to make pedophilia ok in the mainstream. This follows on the transgender push for teens–these people know exactly what they are doing. The slow push manifests itself not only in films like this, but continual pedophilia jokes from celebrities and comedians on Twitter, the demanding that young children have the right to choose their gender (and thus consent to sex, right?), and the growing number of articles about the poor pedophiles and their plight. The crimes of Jeffrey Epstein and Ghislane Maxwell are only the tip of the iceberg of what’s going on here.
For those who followed Pizza Gate, which was actually not debunked, and now for those who follow Q, there is evidence that those in power, politicians, celebrities, a staggering amount of people, are all involved in human trafficking of minors–and using our money to do it. You don’t have to take my word on that, but if you’re curious, there’s plenty of research to find online–well, the stuff that the “masters of the universe” tech companies haven’t censored yet. I warn you, though, it’s not a happy place to go. The only comfort in the knowledge of the bad going on is the knowledge that whether it’s Trump or the Q team or not, some people with the power to do it have been slowly bringing these monsters to justice.
Back to the film: All that above is probably something that the director wasn’t aware of, but it’s just another angle to the whole age gap that reveals what a poor choice making the main character a teenager, and even a young teenager at that, was, at least for an American audience. Again, I am not sure how the film was received in Japan, but I do know that the director’s other films are wildly popular.
The creepiest part of the story is the fact that the woman works at the boy’s school and the accusations against her. At least in America, we have a very real problem with teachers and school workers preying on their students in a sexual way, specifically female teachers. In the past ten years there’s been way too many new stories about yet another 30+ year old woman teacher having sexual relations with her male students. These true incidents are why a story of this sort is a really difficult sell for Americans specifically: The audience is being bated to some degree to say this is ok. In a story like this, we are being asked to agree that it’s ok for a teenager and older adult to have a friendship like this.
But in reality even a friendship is not ok, because even if the adult sets appropriate boundaries, the teenager is likely to confuse things, just like he did in this story. Teenagers are just figuring out love and the opposite sex, and it’s up to the adults to not put them in situations in which we confuse them more, something the female character absolutely did in this story. She withheld information from him and it speaks volumes for her character that instead of facing her troubles, she goes to the park to drink beer, eat chocolate, and spend time with a student, eerily close to what she’s being accused of. I’m not sure any audience should be feeling sympathetic towards this woman. She’s completely clueless to a degree in which one has to question if she actually is clueless.
I’m sure I’ve now overstated my case twenty times over, but the choices made in this film, visual amazingness aside, were such a mis-step that it begs incredulity. Again, what exactly is the audience being asked to condone and why? It’s hard to believe that the creators of the movie are actually that naive. For those who love the film, perhaps just as I love High School King of Savvy, these stories are really flawed, and maybe it would be better not to admire them–for the children’s sake.