A young man approaches the edge of a bridge. He has just quit his job, paid off all his debts and now, fully clad in a scruffy school uniform, is ready to jump to his death.
Just as he prepares to leap, a group of children setting off fireworks brings him back to his senses. But what was it that brought him this close to the edge?
The young man in question is Shoya Ishida, an 18-year-old high school student. At school, he struggles with depression, anxiety and loneliness.
But it wasn’t always this way. In middle school, Shoya was a precocious, popular kid. He and his friends liked to jump into rivers, wrestle, and generally make a nuisance of themselves.
One day, however, everything changed. A young girl appeared. A girl named Shoko Nishimiya. A sweet, quiet girl, who wanted to make friends with everyone. There was only one problem.
She was deaf.
For some reason, this bothered Shoya. He probably didn’t even realise why, himself.
But slowly, over days and weeks, that bother turned to scorn, and that scorn spread to almost every member of the class. Shoya began to mercilessly bully Shoko – a girl whose only crime was being unable to hear.
Even then, in an effort to make everyone understand her, Shoko began to wear hearing aids. They were stolen, of course. Over and over and over again. But despite all this, she just wanted to be friends. No matter what they threw at her, what names they called her, that didn’t change.
But one day, Shoya took things too far. He tore a hearing aid from Shoko’s ear in the middle of class, causing her ear to bleed. And all of a sudden, the world turned against him.
The classmates who terrorised Shoko at his side turned their backs, denying any involvement. Their ineffectual teacher, formerly so laissez faire, flew into a rage. Shoya’s friendships, his middle school reputation, were destroyed in a single afternoon.
In high school, his former friends made sure to let everyone know that Shoya was an evil bully. Someone not to be trusted. Someone to be shunned.
And here we find the boy on the bridge, prepared to end his life. What now?
I normally don’t write film reviews. I don’t really know why that is – but in this case I’m prepared to make an exception to that (non-existant) rule.
What you just read is a brief summary of the first half hour or so of A Silent Voice, Kyoto Animation’s film adaptation of Yoshitoki Oima’s manga Koe no Katachi. What follows is a heart-wrenching, sensitive drama about one young man’s journey toward forgiveness and redemption not only from his victim, but also from himself.
A Silent Voice isn’t concerned with playing the blame game. In effect, the game has already been played, and Shoya has found himself guilty of all charges. In high school, he has become a sad, withdrawn individual who basically hates himself for what he did to Shoko, and in order to own up to his failings, tracks her down to make amends and, hopefully, become friends.
In essence, rather than asking whether a victim can forgive their aggressor, the film is more about whether someone who has done something terrible to another person is able to forgive themselves.
But even to say that would be over-simplifying the plot. A Silent Voice is a film with so many layers it’s hard to fully explain. Much like the characters themselves, the film is filled with a storm of complex emotions.
Guilt. Resentment. Hate. Self-loathing. These are all topics addressed in A Silent Voice. But more stunning than the ideas it covers, is the fact that the film makes it clear than all people are capable of these feelings.
Shoya is not the only one involved in his search for redemption – his former classmates, too, have their own thoughts and regrets about that time in their lives, and those repressed feelings have as much to do with the plot as Shoya and Shoko’s relationship.
A Silent Voice was placed in indirect competition with Makoto Shinkai’s Your Name – itself a stunning piece of storytelling – but really that’s like comparing apples to oranges. While Your Name was a fantasy romance adventure, A Silent Voice is very much grounded in reality, and tells a distinctly human story.
Thankfully, Kyoto Animation don’t disappoint, bringing their usual brilliantly animated charm to the movie. A Silent Voice is directed by Naoko Yamada, best known for K-ON! and something of an anomaly herself (female anime directors are few and far between), who brings a precisely executed emotional depth to the film in addition to its lush visuals.
Of particular note is the use of chromatic aberration (aka the blurry, discoloured bits at the edge of a photograph). Some see it as a little overused, but I feel it adds a further element to the film, something somewhere between nostalgia and melancholy – almost like we as the viewer are watching the story unfold through the lens of an old camera.
Oftentimes, when we are looking at a scene from Shoya’s perspective, the camera is angled down at the floor or at chest height and almost every face is covered with a big X, symbolising his unwillingness to look people in the eye. Little details like this really make the film.
Even the English voice cast has that little extra thought put into it. Though Shoko has relatively few lines in the film, in the English dub her part is taken by actress Lexi Cowden, who is deaf herself.
But more importantly than the gorgeous visuals, and the plain but effective soundtrack, and the voice acting, A Silent Voice spoke to me on a personal level.
I was a victim of bullying at school. Maybe not as badly as poor Shoko, but it happened. I’d even say it was probably the lowest point in my life.
But even now, years later, I realised something. I had never forgiven my tormentors. Maybe I thought I couldn’t, or that they didn’t deserve my forgiveness. I was told they had “mellowed out”, that they were better people now. I didn’t believe them.
Some of them are married now. Some have kids. I didn’t care.
But they’re all human, and humans make mistakes. Maybe I just needed this film to remember that.
There are many more things I want to say about A Silent Voice. I’d say them, if I had the words to. Until I can think of them, you’ll just have to watch the film yourself. A Silent Voice is a…
A touching, mature story of regret and redemption is brought to life in a vivid way by master animators Kyoto Animation. Come for the pretty art, stay for the emotionally complex story, and don’t you dare miss it.