‘A Silent Voice’ (‘Koe no Katachi’ in Japanese which literally translates to ‘The Shape of Voice’) is a 2016 Japanese animation film (‘Anime’) directed by Naoko Yamada. This film is based on the manga (Japanese comics) of the same name written and illustrated by Yoshitoki Ōima and received widespread acclaim upon its release. I have always enjoyed Disney and Pixar animation films (Big Hero 6 and Coco being some of my favorites) and when a close friend of mine suggested this movie, I realized that I have never seen a Japanese animation film before. Somehow it just never came up on my radar. Curiosity got the best of me when the film also somehow came up in my Netflix recommendations. And that is how I watched one of the most poignant and touching animation films.
‘A Silent Voice’ is a romance drama film that tells the story of the friendship between Shoya Ishida and Shoko Nishimiya, two high-schoolers who used to be classmates in elementary school. We see the whole film from Ishida’s perspective. The actual story begins when Nishimiya, a deaf girl, transfers to Ishida’s elementary school where she gets horribly bullied by him. Ishida gets into trouble for it and ends up becoming an outcast in his own school while Nishimiya changes schools. Years later, in high school, Ishida has lost all his friends and has a bad reputation in school. But he has learned from his mistakes and never wants to hurt Nishimiya or anyone ever again. He has learned sign language which he was unwilling to learn before and is able to start a sweet friendship with Nishimiya. He wants her to be happy so he tries to bring her old friends and classmates back together. In the 2 hours 30 minute movie, we see how their friendship helps them with their issues which majorly arose from bullying. The film shows how bullying affects both the victim and the bully as we see both the characters suffering from loneliness and self-loathing. Nishimiya, as sweet and kind as she is, still suffers the after-effects of the bullying she faced. She believes that she is the reason why Ishida lost all of his friends. Ishida has realized his mistake but has now become an outcast.
One of the most striking points of the film is how grounded and natural all of the characters and their arcs are, particularly the main protagonists’. At the beginning of the film, one feels so much dislike towards Ishida when we see him tearing Nishimiya’s hearing aids from her ears, throwing them out the window, and blowing sand in her face. But all of that hatred slowly melts away seeing him trying his best later. He becomes quiet and careful even as nobody in school actually cares about him. He is scared of looking at his classmates directly and hates feeling judged by them. The animation depicts his fear with blue crosses over his classmates’ faces. He is filled with self-hatred, even considering suicide at one point, and struggles to apologize to Nishimiya.
Friendship is also an important topic in this film. We see all kinds of friendships. Ishida gains a loyal friend in Nagatsuka, a bullied boy who also helps him find Nishimiya. Some of her classmates talk sweetly to Nishimiya while making fun of her behind her back, even refusing to learn sign language. Ishida’s friends find it easy to place all the blame on him even though they also took part in the bullying. Some of them change for the better, while others don’t.
There is something about this film that makes it so much more humane and emotional than other animations I have seen. The animation style by Futoshi Nishiya is so different from the usual, yet so welcome. The film has beautiful and detailed sceneries of the roads, lakes and the buildings of the town. The film also tackles a lot of relevant social issues like bullying, suicidal and self-deprecating thoughts, social anxiety, and the struggles of people with disabilities. It is interesting how an animation film can be this realistic in terms of its story because these are definitely some of the issues teenagers of this age face. It may appear to be a simple story of high-school romance at first but the film tackles so many complex and deep matters. It is also pretty impressive to me how an animation film is able to move its viewers so much emotionally while also making it entertaining and not boring.
In conclusion, A Silent Voice is a very heart-touching and sweet film. It is insightful and enjoyable for a wide range of age groups. I would definitely recommend it to all animation lovers. In fact, it would be a good starting point for people who have never seen Japanese animation films before.