Also hot off the press today is the first trailer for「言の葉の庭」(Kotonoha no Niwa), Shinkai Makoto’s forthcoming feature animation film. The clip is available via YouTube (and embedded above), with subtitles in English, French, Chinese, Korean and Russian (turn captions on and select the language of your choice). The trailer is labelled The Garden of Words, which is slightly different from the literal translation as Garden of Thousands [sic] Pieces of Words that Shinkai himself offered when first announcing the film, but it may still be the English working title. The trailer also reveals that the release date for the film in Japan is May 31, 2013 and announces the official website (www.kotonohanoniwa.jp, all in Japanese).

With a length of 1:28 minutes, the video is more than a teaser and we can already get a better sense of the plot. Shinkai previously revealed that Kotonoha no Niwa is a story set in modern times that explores the concept of love (恋 or koi) with its more traditional meaning in Japan, namely as something of ‘solitary sadness’ as opposed to the Western idea of romantic, happy-ever-after love. The new details we can glean from the trailer are that our lead characters are Takao, a 15-year old boy,kotonohanoniwa 4

and Yukino, a 27-year old woman,kotonohanoniwa 14

who meet by chance in a garden on a rainy day. We only have hints of who they are: Takao is a schoolboy that spends much of his time (including when he should be in school) making shoes in hope to achieve his personal dream of becoming a professional shoe designer. He seems to develop feelings for the woman. She, meanwhile, appears to have withdrawn from the world, perhaps bearing some sort of emotional burden from the past. With the trailer narration being from the point of view of the teen, that sense of closed-offness from the world in the woman is even stronger as we don’t really know what she is thinking, but only that the boy longs to draw her out, revealing that he wishes to make her shoes “that will make her want to walk a lot in”.

As their tale of love unfolds, the two characters meet in the same garden again and again, always by coincidence and always only when it rains. With the end of the rainy season approaching, their encounters may soon end. Added to that of course is the 12-year gap between the characters and one being quite clearly a minor, which makes an interesting twist to the love story – and one that fits with a tale not going by the romantic concept. It may be one-sided love (we don’t yet know), but it’s certainly unattainable love, the sort that comes steeped in loneliness because you can never be together.

What’s interesting about 12-year difference is also this utterance of Yukino’s – “I’m 27 but I don’t feel I got any cleverer than compared to myself 12 years ago” -, making me wonder if there is any more significance to that number – like that her emotional pain may stem from a moment that many years ago. It’s not something that is certain though, because if you look at the French subtitles – “J’ai 27 ans mais je ne sens pas plus sage que quand j’avais 15 ans” (“I’m 27 years old but I don’t feel any wiser than when I was 15”, my translation) – I would interpret the lines differently, i.e. stemming possibly from a discussion between the two characters and the boy voicing his feelings of inadequacy due to his age. We do get him stating earlier in the trailer that “[s]he must think of a 15-year old like me just as a little kid”, so that interpretation seems more plausible – but it’s all my guess really and, being at my limit with English and French, I can’t compare with the original language or the other subs available.

Visually speaking, there is no doubt that this is a Shinkai film, we get lovely detailed scenes that seem vaguely familiar, whether it’s a close-up street view:kotonohanoniwa 1

or a more panoramic vista (with bird) of the city:kotonohanoniwa 5

And playing with light (and dark and everything in between), of course – Shinkai has always been a master at this:kotonohanoniwa 12

I also always delight in the little details in Shinkai’s films that set most of them so clearly in Japan, somewhat differently from Studio Ghibli, which half the time uses more unidentifiable settings (「ハウルの動く城」/Hauru no Ugoku Shiro/Howl’s Moving Castle, 2004; 「魔女の宅急便」/Majo no Takkyūbin/Kiki’s Delivery Service, 1989 – not a criticism, I do love those productions dearly).

In Kotonoha no Niwa we see, for example, a home with tatami and traditional sliding doors:kotonohanoniwa 2

and a garden with an old-style pavilion:kotonohanoniwa 3

Gotta love that umbrella made translucent by the rain as well, delicate leaves of Japanese maple shining through:kotonohanoniwa 17

There are some interesting angles too, drawing attention to shoes and feet, which obviously will play an important role in the story: kotonohanoniwa 13

I do wonder whether shoes will simply be a plot device, or whether the story will interlace more symbolic, metaphorical meanings into them (shoes to go outside and explore the world rather than hiding indoors, walking in someone else’s shoes, etc.).

While the images are gorgeous, the pacing of the animation feels a bit choppy in some places for me, but, then again, this is only the first trailer and not the polished final product. My favourite bit at the moment is the ending sequence, when the scene slowly shifts its focus from the back of the image (the characters) to what is closer to us viewers (a branch):kotonohanoniwa 11 - ending trailer

With Kotonoha no Niwa Shinkai is also collaborating with a new composer, Kashiwa Daisuke, for the first time, rather than Tenmon, who scored all his previous films. The ending theme song (エンディングテーマ) is「Rain」, written by Oe Senri and performed by Hata Motohiro. I have to say I’m not quite convinced by it just yet.kotonohanoniwa 6

Also note that a manga adaptation of Kotonoha no Niwa will be published by Kodansha starting in April 2013 – though personally I would rather see the film itself first, no?

Further production details:

Director: Shinkai Makoto
Production Studio: CoMix Wave
Screenplay: Shinkai Makoto
Character Design: Tsuchiya Kenichi
Animation Director: Tsuchiya Kenichi
Art Director: Hiroshi Takiguchi
Voice Cast: Hanazawa Kana (Yukino), Irino Miyu (Takao)

Bonus Bits: