Ability, Anime, Class, Diversity, Movies

A Silent Voice is a Perfect Film

A Silent Voice (Koe no Katachi) 

Naoko Yamada (director), Reiko Yoshida (screenplay), Kazuya Takao (cinematographer), Kengo Shigemura (editor)
Miyu Irino, Saori Hayami, Aoi Yūki, Kenshō Ono, Yūki Kaneko (voice cast)
Adapted from the manga A Silent Voice by Yoshitoki Ōima
October 20, 2017 (USA)

It’s rare to find a film that has a sweet, nuanced, and intelligent take on deafness and the ableism that society inflicts on the deaf community. Yet with her adaptation of Yoshitoki Ōima’s A Silent Voice, Naoko Yamada has delivered just that. A true gem, this is a breathtakingly, beautiful, slice of life anime, which has a sincerity and kindness that’s often missing from contemporary mainstream cinema.  

A Silent Voice (Koe no Katachi) first appeared in Bessatsu Shōnen Magazine in Japan. But as I was in London, I found the Kodansha distributed trade edition on the shelves of the comic shop where I worked, after passionate recommendations from many of my colleagues and friends. A Silent Voice is an incredibly beautiful book, an unflinching study of childhood bullying, forgiveness, and the concept of redemption.

Naoko Yamada’s anime is a pitch perfect rendition of the source material, a film that achieves what any great adaptation does: creating something that uses the different medium to bring something new to the original without ever losing what makes the story special. A Silent Voice’s strengths are in its introspection and its exploration of childhood relationships. It’s a true slice of life story, and at almost three hours long the film doesn’t lose any of the intricate nuance that made the original manga so special.

A Silent Voice begins when young Shōko Nishimiya joins a new elementary school. Shōko is a kind, friendly, and outgoing girl who just happens to be deaf. We follow her attempts to fit in and make connections with the kids in her class, which are slowly but steadily thwarted by our other main protagonist, Shōya Ishida. Shōya is a popular and cruel bully, and his pointed harassment ends up with Shōko leaving the school, which is where our journey truly begins. The movie’s portrayal of bullying is unflinching, sometimes even hard to watch, but that only ever works to the film’s strength. Shōya’s bullying is so universally recognisable, yet insidious, and it’s starkly at odds with the reality that Shōko is at the mercy of the whims of children who see her existence as a joke, nothing more than a distraction to entertain themselves.

The heart of A Silent Voice is really the journey of the two protagonists when they meet again in high school and where Shōya–now isolated and alone, guilt-ridden due to his past–dedicates himself to befriending Shōko and making amends for his actions as a child. This is where the movie really delves into its central themes of bullying and its long term impact on both victim and bully. Shōya is ridden with guilt and lives an insular life, haunted by thoughts of suicide, which is a recurring theme for both main characters in the movie. What’s great about Shōya’s arc is that you’re never asked to put him before Shōko or excuse his past behaviours, rather just empathise with him as he tries to grow.

As a disabled person, there’s something riveting about watching a movie that both respects deafness and deaf culture enough to never lose sight of the fact that Shōko’s life is valid, whole, and completely normal, whilst also highlighting how it’s the ableism of society that actually creates the obstacles she has to face. The film moved me so much that I asked my WWAC colleague and friend Jazmine Joyner what she thought of A Silent Voice, as she’s one of my favorite disabled critics, and she was happy to share her thoughts on the film.

Rosie turned me onto this film knowing my complete love of all things anime. When I watched A Silent Voice, I was not only taken aback by the amazing portrayal of ableism and redemption, but I was mesmerized by the amazing art. Each scene is like a painting. The animation is as much a part of this emotional movie as the story itself. The vivid colors of the koi pond that Shōya and Shōko spend so much time at reconnecting contrasts against the muted color scheme and animation within their respective homes. The world becomes a rainbow of color and light when they’re together, even in the intense bullying scenes in the beginning of the film.

After watching A Silent Voice I immediately wanted to watch the film again. It told a story of a girl with a disability and painted her in a normal light. She wasn’t the DEAF girl, she was just a girl who happens to be deaf and is surrounded by ignorant people, and that’s a refreshing take all on it’s own. I truly enjoyed this movie because of its ability to talk about disability, suicide, and how those issues affect your family and friends in a smart and nuanced way. I’ll be thanking Rosie forever for telling me to watch this amazing film.

We both adored this movie and would highly recommend it to anyone who loves anime, great storytelling, or fantastic filmmaking. A Silent Voice is all of those and more.