Makoto Shinkai’s 2013 anime film, The Garden of Words (Japanese: 言の葉の庭, Kotonoha no Niwa) combines motifs of rain, poetry, Japanese garden, and shoes to weave a wistful yarn about an unlikely relationship that blossoms between the two protagonists. The film meditates on and poses questions about loneliness, the need to belong and connect with others, introversion, and departure from social norms, during its brief run time of 46 minutes.
The need for love and belonging are highlighted in different ways in the film through its protagonists, Takao Akizuki and Yukari Yukino. According to the humanistic psychologist, Abraham Maslow, the need for love and belonging involves receiving acceptance and love from others as well as developing a sense of trust towards others and doing the same towards others, forging relationships, and having a sense of affiliation with a group such as friends or family.  
Takao Akizuki is a fifteen-year-old high school student who yearns to make shoe making his profession. Through glimpses of his life at home and at school, the viewer discovers that Akizuki is a loner and feels like he does not belong. On the other hand, Yukari Yukino, a twenty-seven-year-old teacher of Japanese literature, also feels equally isolated. Thus, they both struggle to fulfill the need for love and belonging. However as the film progresses, they slowly become each other’s confidantes and source of support, across their meetings on rainy mornings in the Shinjuku Gyo-en National Park.
In relation to their struggling to fulfill their needs of love and belonging, loneliness pervades over the lives of both protagonists to a large extent. Loneliness is defined as a feeling of distress that accompanies the perception that one’s social needs are not being satisfied by the quantity or especially the quality of one’s social relationships. When neglected, loneliness can have serious implications for cognition, emotion, behaviour, and health. 
In spite of having friends and family, Akizuki does not really seem to connect with them and ends up experiencing loneliness. His solitary hobby of shoe making is not encouraged by his elder brother who sees it as an ephemeral teenage obsession, and is not shared by his friends. Yukino, on the other hand, lives alone, away from her parents, and is forced to quit work after being severely bullied. Having no one to support her or stand up for her, Yukino feels extremely isolated. Like Akizuki, the few social relationships that she has are rather unfulfilling and only exist to further her feelings of loneliness. However, when they find each other fortuitously, their unlikely camaraderie serves to slowly alleviate the heart-wrenching loneliness that pervades their lives.
Introversion also colours the characters in the film. As Yukino says towards the end of the film, Akizuki tends to live in his own little world. He also prefers solitary pursuits to interacting with people with the sole exception of Yukino. Akizuki can be, thus, said to be an introvert. As defined by Carl Jung, introverts prefer being their own rich world of thoughts and dreams to the company of people and that derive energy from being alone.  It may have been Akizuki’s introversion that initially leads him to seek out the quiet comfort of a garden on a rainy morning in contrast to the boisterous populated environs of his high school. Even Yukino can be said to be an introvert to a certain extent as she is shown to have hardly any friends, although that may also have been due to having malicious rumours spread about her.
Deviating from social norms and subverting social roles is another theme that The Garden of Words touches upon. Social norms are implicit rules that dictate an individual’s behaviour in society while social roles are the specific parts played by members of a social group. Takao Akizuki and Yukari Yukino are both seen skipping classes and work frequently thus choosing not to follow the dictates of their social roles. Akizuki’s unconventional hobby of making shoes is also atypical of the norm as is his choosing to completely devote himself to his part-time job over the entire duration of his summer break unlike his friends who enjoy while their time away at the beach. Through their interactions, Akizuki being the student, offers support to Yukino, the teacher and thus subverts their social roles in a certain way. Most importantly, the relationship that blossoms between Akizuki and Yukino throughout the film, culminating in Akizuki developing romantic feelings for Yukino, also shows a marked departure from what is conventionally accepted and challenges social norms.
Addressing such varied questions, The Garden of Words is a film that stays with its viewer long after the credits have rolled, be it for its astoundingly realistic and extremely beautiful scenes as well as its deeply sensitive take on human relationships.
I first watched The Garden of Words in June, 2018. It was during my second year university examinations, the day before my final Honours paper. I had been feeling rather depressed about my prospects of facing the paper, having sat a disastrous practical examination a mere two weeks ago. I watched the film over breakfast and I still remember how I sobbed during the climax scene. Since then, it has become an absolute favourite of mine.
 McLeod, S. A. (2018, May 21). Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.
 Maslow, A. H. (1943). A Theory of Human Motivation. Psychological Review, 50(4), 370-96.
 Hawkley, L. C., & Cacioppo, J. T. (2010). Loneliness matters: a theoretical and empirical review of consequences and mechanisms. Annals of behavioral medicine : a publication of the Society of Behavioral Medicine, 40(2), 218–227. doi:10.1007/s12160-010-9210-8
 Praveen Shrestha, “Carl Jung Personality Theory”, in Psychestudy, November 17, 2017 https://www.psychestudy.com/general/personality/carl-jung-theory.
 McLeod, S. A. (2008). Social roles. Retrieved from https://www.simplypsychology.org/social-roles.html