Koe no Katachi (映画 聲の形) or A Silent Voice The Movie was officially released in the U.S. this past weekend, and if you happen to live in a city that’s showing it, I highly recommend going.
It’s an anime film written by Reiko Yoshida, a screenwriter and manga artist with many works to her name, and directed by Naoko Yamada, whose previous directorial works include K-On! and Tamako Market. A Silent Voice was first shown at Anime Expo in Los Angeles in July 2017 and released in Japan in September 2016, but it finally made its U.S. debut on October 20, 2017.
Similar to Your Name., which came out in the same year, A Silent Voice is a popular tear-jerker. According to Anime News Network, the movie was #2 at the Japanese box office behind Your Name. The film is based on the manga, of the same name, by Yoshitoki Ōima. (As you can see, the screenwriter, director, and mangaka are all women, which is also very exciting.)
A Silent Voice centers on the lives of two high school students, Shōya Ishida and Shōko Nishimiya, both nicknamed Shō-chan. Shōko is your typical elementary student. He has lots of friends and is popular, but everything changes when Shōko transfers to his school. Shōko is deaf and quickly becomes the target of Shōya and his classmates’ harassment. She eventually leaves the elementary school, but only after things escalate and Shōya finally admits to his guilt. A number of years later, Shōya seeks out Shōko, wishing to apologize for what he did to her in the past, and the story continues, with Shōya seeking redemption and Shōko seeking communication and friendship.
Women Write About Comics has two excellent reviews, one of the manga and one of the film, that discuss the bullying depicted in A Silent Voice, as well as its respectful portrayal of deafness, so I won’t cover these topics too much more here. What I will say is that A Silent Voice attempts, and succeeds, at showing why bullying often happens in the first place (due to ignorance and lack of education), how it can escalate when no one steps in to teach others (the film’s authority figures, teachers and parents, as well as Shōya and Shōko’s classmates, don’t do anything until it gets much worse), and that people can and do change as they grow and learn. Also, the original manga was supported by the Japanese Federation of the Deaf, and the film does an excellent job of portraying Shōko as a girl like any other, a normal girl who happens to also be deaf.
A Silent Voice is a beautifully animated film, but the sounds almost stood out more for me than the sights. Noises and music are used in a purposeful way throughout the story. The smallest sounds, and even the loudest ones, are clearly recorded so that viewers won’t miss a beat. For example, the film opens with a literal bang as the cracking sound of a firecracker distracts the main character from his ill intent. Music throughout the film mimics the crackling, fuzzy, muffled sounds that Shōko must often hear through her hearing aids. And, in a particularly heartrendingly scene much later in the movie, an airplane flies overhead, the whirling sound of its engines pulsing in the background. It doesn’t distract from the scene, but adds to it, making the viewer feel ever more present there on the koi bridge. In a live action film, this noise might have been edited out, but in an animated film, it was purposefully included to alter the mood of the scene.
Yamada’s ability to immerse viewers in the different points of view of the characters, especially through sound, is one of this film’s greatest strengths; however, it is also flawed. We see and hear the world primarily from Shōya’s perspective, although we do get a taste of Yuzuru’s (Shōko’s sister) vantage from time to time. Shōko’s perspective, on the other hand, is hardly ever shown. Instead, her experiences are filtered through Shōya and Yuzuru, and even through Yuzuru’s camera. There is one brief flash in the middle of the film where we get to see and hear what it’s like to be Shōko. And there are other instances where we are symbolically shown what it must be like to be her, including when Shōya and Shōko end up in the river. There the sounds that Shōya normally can hear clearly are muffled underwater. Suffice to say, I would have liked to have gotten more from Shōko’s perspective directly rather than always seeing her from the outside.
Still, the film hits all the correct emotional marks. The subtle animation of Shōya’s facial expressions and body movements showed us exactly what we needed to know about what was happening inside his mind. And Shōko’s inner dialogue was also undeniably clear. I especially loved seeing her in her bedroom, throwing her legs up and down as she contemplated how to tell Shōya that she liked him. It still amazes me what animation can do, and this was one of the first things I voiced as I left the theater. This was the second animated film this year (the other being Your Name.) that had me in tears, while no live action films with actual human actors have done so in a long time. Perhaps its ability to take what would otherwise be a subtle facial expression and make it more extreme is what makes it so emotionally distressful. When you see those big, bubbling anime tears welling up in Shōya or Shōko’s eyes you can’t help but cry too.
A Silent Voice is being released in the U.S., subtitled, by Eleven Arts.
Story: 5 out of 5 stars
Art: 5 out of 5 stars
Overall: 5 out of 5 stars
Rine Karr is an Anime Writer at Girls in Capes. She’s a writer and aspiring novelist by moonlight and a copyeditor by daylight. Rine loves good food, travel, and lots of fiction, especially novels, anime, manga, video games, and films. She’s also the Chief Copyeditor and an occasional contributor at Women Write About Comics.
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