On a rainy morning, Takao skips school and goes to the city park, an oasis from the grey and skyless world. He takes shelter in a gazebo, where he finds a woman (somewhere in her twenties, while he is 15). The woman sits silently, drinking beer and eating comically large chocolate bars; while the boy secretly draws fetishistic pictures of her feet. Takao, it turns out, has dreams of being a 21st century cobbler.
Their meeting is repeated every rainy day, and over time the two being to talk. Takao opens up more than she does, telling the woman all his hopes and dreams, and the woman, unlike everyone else, does not criticize his shoemaking fantasies. The woman, for her part, never even tells him her name, though she does agree to let him manhandle her feet.
The garden is another world – separate from reality. A place where wanting to design handmade shoes for a living isn’t a stupid idea (or elaborate excuse to fulfill one’s foot fetish). What grows between is best described as a platonic romance; more than friendship, but lacking in sexual overtones (even when he gently traces his fingers along her feet).
Later in the film, Takao is shocked to find that his garden retreat is not as separate from the real world as he thought, forcing him to wonder if is cobbler dreams can survive outside the Garden of Words.
The Garden of Words is a sweet and beautiful story that manages to stay true to itself (even when the truth isn’t as satisfying as one would like). The characters are beautifully realized and their relationship is equally wonderful and tragic. The garden is a magical place, but one a boy must leave, eventually.
The Garden of Words was produced by indie animation house CoMix Wave. CoMix Wave is great at making low budget animation look far better than it should. Beautiful rain effects and something as simply as a transparent umbrella make the short film look positively glossy, even if the nuts and bolts animation itself is limited. The Blu-ray, from Sentai Filmworks, looks great. It includes English and Japanese audio, and English subtitles (that are not locked). The credits and titles are left in Japanese.