The Garden of Words Gold Coast Premiere Q&A
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Jun. 9th, 2013 | 03:45 am
This is a transcript of the Q&A session that was held during the world premiere of Makoto Shinkai's The Garden of Words (Kotonoha no Niwa) at the Gold Coast Film Festival on the 28th of April this year. I had the oppourtunity to attend the event and meet the man himself, a truly unforgettable experience! I chose to translate Shinkai's answers from scratch instead of directly transcribing his interpreter's words so that it'd be a little more accurate and better worded, though I definitely used it for cross-reference.
If you have yet to watch the movie please be warned that there are spoilers within, including one which was the reason why I chose to write this only after it premiered in Japan and the BD became available. So once again, turn back now if you don't want to be spoiled!
Before we get to the Q&A, I'll talk a little about the event itself. It started with an autograph session at 3pm. I was lucky to be one of the first in line since the queue turned out to be looooong! So long that the signing still wasn't over when it was time to go into the cinema. In fact, they apparently had to arrange for the screening to be held in another cinema room because the turnout was larger than they anticipated. Luckily, Shinkai allowed for another signing session after the screening with priority given to those who were at the back of the line. Even those of us who were at the front were allowed to use the second session as a chance to take a photo with him. He was definitely surprised when I came up to him with a copy of the 5 Centimeters Per Second storyboard book! =D By the way, see those fliers on the table in the above photo? Here's a better look:
This sorry excuse of a lazy hack job was what fans who didn't bring their own Shinkai merchandise had to use for the autograph. I honestly felt sorry for them to have their precious autograph on... that. Seriously, couldn't they have done a better job to make something more appropriately designed? How hard would it have been to just have the image take up the whole page and whatever details they wanted neatly placed at the bottom? Did they really think giving throwaway leaflets like these were a good idea? Those square cardboards used for autographs would've been a better choice in that case.
Anyway onto the Q&A. Lines written within /slashes/ represent Shinkai speaking in English while [square brackets] are my own interjections/notes. Naturally I've taken out his interpreter for obvious reasons. If my transcription of the host’s words sounds weird, it’s because she has some sort of slur in her speech which made hearing her harder, especially on my poor audio recording. If only her speech pattern was the only problem she had...
[Before the screening]
/Thank you for coming today./ Umm, is it okay if I speak in Japanese?
/Five years ago I lived in London for one year but I almost forget English, so I need translator./ It’s only been three weeks ago since the production of The Garden of Words was completed. Today is the first ever screening of the film in the world.
I’m really nervous about what you will think of the film. It is set in modern Japan and thus contains a lot of Japanese elements, such as the Japanese garden where the two leads meet, the rainy season and Manyoshu. As such I am curious and a little worried about how these Japanese elements will be perceived by overseas viewers. Having said that, the core of the film is about a pure love story between a boy and a girl with an age gap between them. There will be a Q&A session after the screening where I look forward to hearing your impressions of the film. Please enjoy the movie. /Thank you./
[After the screening]
/Thank you for watching the movie. Did you enjoy it?/
One thing that was quite interesting in the film was that both characters were very strong. They both came across equally, which was quite unusual and at the end of it felt like it was the woman’s or the female’s voice was actually very, very strong work for a man to be writing from a female’s point of view. That was a very interesting point.
I initially wrote the story based on how I thought a 15 year old boy would feel towards a mysterious 27 year old woman. However when I showed the screenplay to others, I was told that Yukino came off as an unpleasant woman. She seemed like a woman who toyed with the honest feelings of a 15 year old boy. That was not my intention so I had to interview other women to find ways to portray how Yukino had her own reasons for skipping school and how she could not properly respond to Takao’s feelings.
Most of the emotion that comes through at the ending was (Takao) coming to terms with losing his mother or his mother leaving and that sense of a female or that finding, trying to work out what actually does make a woman tick, you know? That kind of second thread in the story, a fifteen year old trying to work out “Why has my mother left?”.
[Excuse me but THAT MAKES NO SENSE BECAUSE HE NEVER THOUGHT THAT WAY nor was it even a big deal in the first place! Did we watch the same thing?]
There was indeed a part about how Takao’s mother left them for a younger boyfriend. I think if that had happened to me when I was 15 it would have been such a shock that I would feel like the world was ending.
Now that I am around my parents’ age, I can relate to the feelings of Takao’s mother. There are even cases where people enter relationships solely for their money or how maturing into an adult does not necessarily mean being mature at heart. As such I wanted to portray that there are families that would take situations like a mother’s divorce in stride, like how the brothers talk about how their mother leaving means there would be more croquettes for them to share.
One interesting thing I thought in terms of the connection between the two was of the obsession with feet and shoes and I think that there is actually quite a lot of symbolism in the film. In the way that you talked about it being about words and “The Garden of Words” but actually I think a lot of the symbols are actually visual. Tell us a little more about the visual symbols.
As you mentioned, I used rain, birds, shoes and other things as symbols with different meanings within them. For instance, rain is an unavoidable occurrence that happens naturally. It will rain on you and when it does there’s no helping it. That applies to love as well: You can’t stop it when it happens.
As for the feet, I asked a lot of women if they would be willing to show their feet to others if asked. Most of them were unwilling though there were also those who answered that they would do it since they just had their pedicures done. I’d imagine that the feet of a woman would be a mysterious thing to a 15 year old boy, particularly since most boys that age wouldn’t normally get to touch them. That is why to Takao, a woman’s feet represented the very secrets of the world itself.
The reason why I chose shoe making as Takao’s ambition was because it was a profession that requires direct contact with feet, “the very secrets of the world itself”. You can’t make shoes for a specific person unless you communicate with them. Takao is a character that uses shoe making as his way of being involved with others, seeking and connecting with them.
I think of the other really interesting things about this film and also all of your films is the incredible backgrounds. And one of the tropes and such is that, this kind of work is called “scenery porn”. [Cue audience laughter and possibly a few facepalms] It’s so exotic and so beautiful and it’s kind of there possibly for no reason, you know? But I would argue that- or do you argue that focusing on some of the various really incredible beautiful backgrounds and scenes is actually your contiguous story?
[He laughs] I’m happy to hear that people would feel ‘elated’ just by looking at the scenery. That is what it means, right? [More audience laughter] Animation involves illustration after all and in such fields (involving art/illustration) there is a desire to display one’s craft. We feel as strongly about wanting to create beautiful visuals as much as we do about wanting to create a story. That is why while there are backgrounds created to suit the story there are also those that are like presentations of what we are capable of.
One of the other things that makes me think it’s also about the way you craft your film and the way it starts from [I think that’s what she said?] and this one also has a lot about language and some of the words that you used were some of the poems and it feels like a lot of the film is quite possibly scripted out. Do you work from (an) original script first and then make the pictures or do you make the pictures and script at the same time?
In regards to this film, there were specific lines that I wanted the characters to say from the very beginning and so the script was developed from there. For instance, “To me she represents nothing less than the very secrets of the world” and “I’m not a bit smarter at the age of 27 than I was at the age of 15”. Besides that, this film was inspired by words and had a line from the Manyoshu. Perhaps those overseas may have heard of haiku or tanka? It’s written using kanji and hiragana characters and is akin to symbols representing pictures.
The “A faint clap of thunder” poem Yukino read to Takao was accompanied by thunder in the background. Thunder is also called ‘inazuma’ (稲妻) in Japanese and is written with ‘rice-plant’ (稲, ine) and ‘wife’ (妻, tsuma) or ‘wife of the rice-plant’. Thunder is believed to be something that brought forth rain and good harvest and as such also holds the meaning of ‘God’s wife’*, so the moment where thunder occurred behind Yukino was meant to portray her as a goddess of sort. Such symbolism that relies on knowledge of Japanese kanji is what has me a little worried about how the scenes would be conveyed to those of you in Australia. Of course, there was also consideration towards people who do not understand kanji (when making the film).
[*Regarding this part, I’m not really sure exactly how you’d get ‘God’s wife’ from his explanation, so I did a little research to try to find out. To elaborate, ‘kaminari’ (雷, thunder) has its roots in the word 神鳴り(also pronounced kaminari) which means something like ‘the sound of God‘ as thunder was once believed to be made by gods. FYI, the thunder in the poem is ‘narukami’ (鳴る神). Although
[At this point the questions were opened up to the audience.]
Hello, thank you, I was wondering why you put a lot of beautiful detail into the scenery and nature but not much in the people? [If only I could have seen my face when that question came up…]
It is part of the style of Japanese animation. Even today we still draw the characters with pencil, which is why we have to keep the character designs simple in order to make animating them feasible. We draw the characters’ outlines and proceed to fill in each area (of the outline) with the necessary colours determined beforehand. I also personally like this style.
[Added an example taken from the official website]
I’m not sure if you may have noticed, but I used a slightly different approach towards the colouring in this film. Normally there would be two colours used (as highlights) on the characters, light and dark, but this time I’ve also added reflected colours. For example when surrounded by lots of green within the Japanese gardens, apart from the light from the sun, reflected green light from the opposite direction is added to the characters. Basically adding such colours make the characters feel like they are a part of their surroundings. Should you get a chance to watch it again, I hope that you would look at those details as well.
[Another example. Shinkai wrote a blog post explaining it (in Japanese).]
Hi, thank you so much for letting use watch your film, it was beautiful. The sound and even the smell and feel of the rain is so much a part of shaping the mood of the film and the characters and their relationship. I wondered what came first for you, the story or that sort of idea of making a film about rain? I wonder if they were always sort of connected in your mind?
I consider the rain to be another main character in this film. It is because of rain that Takao and Yukino met and subsequently continue meeting each other. It is also the reason that they had a chance to go to Yukino’s place and talk. Towards the end when Takao yelled “I hate you!” (to Yukino) as he cried, the way the sunlight shone upon the rain and made it glitter in the evening sun at the moment they embraced each other seemed as if the rain was giving them its blessing. So the rain was not only a part of the movie but also a main character.
I thought that the story was very well written and there was nothing unnecessary in the story. It was very tight and flowed well. I was wondering if you could list some of your favourite books that you’ve read that have influenced your writing perhaps?
First of all I’d like to say that I’m delighted to hear that you felt there were no unnecessary scenes. It is only 46 minutes long and there are people who feel that a movie should be two hours long. Though it may be short and under two hours, I felt that it was long enough to portray the human emotions (within the story). That is why I worked hard to keep it within a necessary length.
As for books that have influenced me, I am a huge fan of Haruki Murakami. I actually included a quote from his masterpiece “Norwegian Wood”, a favourite of mine, into the film. The quote in question is “It looks like we just swam across the river”.
Unfortunately we do not have time for any more questions but I know the whole room here would like to spend another two hours with you. I would like to thank you very very much for coming to Australia.
That round of applause is also saying “Thank you for making the films you do”, you know?
Excuse me, may I have one thing to ask of you?
The Garden of Words is actually still a month away from premiering in Japan, so if possible I would like if you would keep the fact that Yukino is a teacher (in Takao’s school) a secret. That aside, it would be great if you enjoyed the film and spread the word to your friends.
Well, I hope you enjoyed it and my attempts at supplementing the Q&A! I'd say the Q&A was still pretty informative, if not sadly utlised but oh well, that's how these sessions tend to go. The host was... yeah. I had some difficultly trying to listen to her back then, and I had even more now with poor audio. They really should've gotten a better person to do the job. I think they may have even been able to fit in another audience question without her too (Don't get me started on the first audience question).
It was great being able to meet and talk to Shinkai, even just for a little bit. At least he had a fair grasp of English so I didn't end up nervously trying to speak Japanese like I did with Mamoru Hosoda, haha. (Still have a long way to go...) It was really nice of him to stay long after the event in order to greet the fans who ran out of time at the first session, especially since the second session wasn't planned in the first place. Needless to say I'll be remembering this event very fondly, despite the few issues that came up.