The Garden of Words ★★★ Park Theatre | Aug 10 - Sep 9, 2023

The subtle and sensitive animé of Makoto Shinkai tells the story of two outsiders who meet in a park and dream of escaping their dreary and disappointing lives. Takao Akizuki (Hiroki Berrecloth) is a teenage student with a troubled home situation who dreams of designing shoes. Yukari Yukino (Aki Nakagawa) is a teacher who drinks and eats chocolate to cope with her personal and professional problems. The two develop a relationship while finding solace in classic Japanese poetry and in their secluded park hideaway during Tokyo's rainy season. The strength of this production is the atmosphere which is successfully evoked by Cindy Lin's set and Mark Choi's music. The plot, however, is convoluted, and the cast's assumption of multiple roles contributes to the problem of trying to fit it all together. Without a knowledge of the original, it becomes no small task to sort out everything that is going on, and there can be a real loss of focus on the central narrative as one gets mired in the back stories. That paramount relationship also critically depends on the chemistry between the two principals and requires extremely nuanced performances if it is to be neither mawkish nor creepy. In this iteration, the frequently invoked phrase "All humans are weird" seems to diminish the complexity and subtlety of the interactions being dealt with. And this, perhaps, is our main reservation about the production as a whole. This theatrical version of the animé takes on some huge challenges, and while it is definitely worth a look in, it only partially succeeds in capturing the finesse and mystique of the original work.

Rated: ★★★

Reviewed by J.C.
Photo by Piers Foley

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