The Garden of Words focuses on “koi” or lonely sadness before the modern Western concept of “ai” love was imported. Koi is one of the traditional Japanese meanings for love and is exemplified by a person desiring a relationship out of loneliness or just feeling their emotions alone.
Shinkai has stated in interviews this “longing for someone in solitude” is a common emotion young people go through, and that the goal of The Garden of Words was to cheer those people up.
Most stories use the rain to capture the gloomy feelings of a character, but in The Garden of Words, Shinkai states that it is used as a shield by Takao and Yukari to briefly escape from reality.
Other environmental cues, like Yukari’s choice of beer, give hints that she is struggling to cope with society’s expectations as a 27-year-old.
“We’re all still just children at age 27,” Shinkai once said. One of the keys was to show that people don’t mature in the binary fashion set by society.
Despite the main characters’ 12 year age gap, Shinkai felt that it’s important to highlight that the emotions of doubt, uncertainty, and loneliness are not exclusive to teenagers.
The melancholic uncertainty is intensified not just by the film’s use of rain, but also the use of vibrant and deep blues and greens in the color design.
Shinkai took inspiration from his own failed romances to capture the characters’ hesitation to admit their feelings.
However, the movie doesn’t end on a soul-crushingly somber note.
In the end, the core themes and characters of The Garden of Words echo Shinkai’s words of “don’t treat loneliness as something that must be fixed.”