Director: Naoko Yamada
Starring: Miyu Irino, Saori Hayami, Aoi Yuki, Kensho Ono, Yuki Kaneko, Yui Ishikawa, Megumi Han, Toshiyuki Toyonaga
Nishimiya Shoko (Hayami) is a grade school student who has impaired hearing. She transfers into a new school, where she is bullied by her classmates, especially Ishida Shoya (Irino). Reaching breaking point, she moves again, resulting in Ishida being ostracised and bullied himself. Years later he sets himself on a path to redemption. (Source: IMDb)
I’m still in my early days of discovering the wonders of Japanese animated movies beyond Studio Ghibli, and after thoroughly enjoying Makoto Shinkai’s Your Name last year, I jumped at the chance to see Naoko Yamada’s A Silent Voice on the one day it was showing in cinemas. It really is a case of blink and you’ll miss them with anime films in this country so getting in quick is a must.
Like last year’s Your Name, this film has many elements of a teen drama/romance, but the gorgeous animation means it is anything but run of the mill. It is particularly beautiful when it takes a lingering moment of quiet in scenes, and you’ll wish you could pause it for longer to enjoy every element of it. A Silent Voice utilises the more modern animation style as seen in action anime series Attack on Titan in places, but it still retains a classic look which will still please purists. The water effects in particular are wonderfully rich.
It has a modern, teen drama kind of story-line, startlingly grounded in realistic issues affecting young teens. It has a wonderful message about acceptance, friendship, and the power of truly listening to those around you, but your peers in particular. It will powerfully resonate with anyone who has experienced loneliness, bullying or isolation especially.
It takes the issues it explores seriously enough, but it is also genuinely funny in places. Ishida’s reluctant friendship with the over-bearing Nagatsuka provides a lot of the laughs. This character is very much the comic relief in an otherwise quite melancholic and reflective story, but it never feels out of place.
One of the things that A Silent Voice does so well is effectively using school stereotypes, but without ever being overly exaggerated or offensive. This results in there being at least one character everyone should be able to relate to, making for a compelling and believable story.
It jumps around a little story-line wise which is jarring to begin with, but something which you gradually become more accustomed to. Personally I think a past and then present structure would have worked better than flitting between the two as much as it did.
In places it is a little confusing in its interactions and there’s maybe two too many characters; at points you can’t quite remember who wronged who or why and how this effects everything else.
I saw this movie and you should too. Whilst Your Name resonated with me much more on an emotional level, A Silent Voice resonated slightly more on a human level, and its exploration of issues which affect teens in particular is undeniably effective. The animation is as gorgeous as you would expect, and the story is accessible with a great takeaway message. Japanese animation continues to a delight, and it is only a shame they don’t get wider releases, but do try and catch this one if you can.