A Silent Voice (Koe no katachi)
Directed by Naoko Yamada
Based on the manga by Yoshitoko Oima. Screenplay by Reiko Yoshida
Review by Jordan
Transfixing animation, that captures the gliding movements of carp as perfectly as the myriad of feelings displayed by the smile of a fractured youth, can’t quite uphold a story that eventually succumbs to its own heaviness of heart in Naoko Yamada’s A Silent Voice.
When elementary school bully Shoya Ishida’s escalating torment of his deaf classmate Shoko Nishimiya leads to her transferring to a different school, he is ostracised by his peers and spirals into a depth of self-loathing. He stands on a bridge, having torn all future days from the calendar hanging in his room and ready to end his life, deterred only by an intent to make amends. Finding redemption though can be challenging, as Ishida must explore if his desire for Nishimiya’s happiness is out of a genuine care for her, or a more selfish sense of guilt he wishes to overcome.
Nishiniya, burdened by worsening specialist prognosis on her hearing, shows herself to be admirably resilient in the face of adversity; reacting to ill treatment with a heartbreaking smile of innocence and a meek apology. This reaction masks a terrible sadness: a sense that her state is a hindrance to the lives of those close to her. Though not the film’s main character, she is its beating heart, and her reconnection with Ishida is fraught with inescapable emotional complexities. Watching this I was reminded of the theme of Magnolia, that although we might be through with the past, the past sure isn’t through with us.
Nishiniya’s younger sister is the most intriguing of the collection of supporting characters, in that she too has a self-exploratory arc that links the leads and results in a fitting conclusion. The particularly spirited best-friend-boasting sidekick of Ishida offers some much needed humour (the packed cinema audience at my screening bursting into laughter at his appearance seemed to demonstrate that this release stopped them from bursting into tears instead), but aside from these two, the cast of friends whose actions and intentions are so pivotal to the outlook of Nishiniya and Ishida, aren’t detailed enough to properly fulfil their purpose in the narrative. Perhaps understandably, they are more broadly written, and their actions don’t always appear realistic or understandable.
A Silent Voice presents a moving story filled with serious issues unfortunately relevant to the lives of many. It’s protagonist, so encumbered with a hatred for his actions and himself, can’t bear to present his face to the people and world around him, and the girl with whom his life has crossed paths is mistreated by many who have failed to understand the workings of her heart, not just her brave exterior. Although Naoko Yamada’s film can’t sustain a tone to hold these themes, and it at times feels formless in tying them together, it is an honourable effort with good intent.
Hard-to-watch moments of harassment, vulnerability, regret and hopelessness linger throughout, but the sight of Nishiniya’s smile, once it no longer masks inner-turmoil and freely paints its own picture, is one worthy all that comes before.