A Silent Voice: The Movie Review
A Silent Voice, AKA Koe no Katachi or The Shape of Voice, is a Japanese animated movie that released in 2016. The film was directed by Naoko Yamada (best known for directing the adorable and hilarious K-On! series) and stars Miyu Irino as Shoya Ishiya, Saori Hayami as Shoko Nishimiya, Aoi Yuki as Yuzuru Nishimiya, Kensho Ono as Tomohiro Nagatsuka, Yuki Kaneko as Naoka Ueno, Yui Ishikawa as Miyoko Sahara, among many others in smaller roles.
A Silent Voice tells the story of Shoya, an elementary school boy who’s a big time troublemaker. This kid is pretty much the elementary school equivalent of a mean popular boy. He has his friends, even a girl who kinda sort of likes him, but that all changes when a new student, Shoko, transfers to their school. Shoko is deaf. Because of that, she can only communicate using a notebook and sign language, and can only hear things that are very loud. Though she is really kind and tries to make friends, the other kids are extremely mean to her. They make fun of her clothes, leave her alone on the playground, and other childish bullying. No one, however, is quite as mean as Shoya is to her. Shoya constantly calls her disgusting, screams in her ear, and even rips out her expensive hearing aids, throwing them out the window or into fountains. Eventually Shoko’s mom decides enough is enough and moves Shoko to another school. Only then does Shoya realize what he has done, and it destroys him. Fast forward to high school, and Shoya runs into Shoko once again. The rest of the movie involves him reconnecting with her, and trying to make amends for his horrific actions in grade school, while also learning to forgive and love himself.
I had posted on my Instagram right after seeing the film that I was utterly speechless, and couldn’t even begin to write a review because I was at such a loss for words. Now that I have had time to think, I can say that I truly loved this movie in every way. The story is so heartfelt and beautiful, you’d have a hard time not getting emotional at least once during its 2 hour run time.
One of my favorite elements of the movie is the time jump from elementary school to high school. So much can change in that time for children as it is the time of puberty and a lot more responsibilities are placed on their shoulders. Though much has changed for Shoya, he is thrown right back into that elementary school class when he sees Shoko again, it’s like a reminder of the terrible things he did, and he has had all this time to regret it. He can finally make amends with her and perhaps be friends, as she always wanted. I also thought it was very unique and impactful when every character Shoya isn’t friends with has a big blue “X” over their face. Ever since Shoko left elementary school, Shoya has felt alone and hated by everyone around him. He cannot consider them friends, and is convinced that they don’t care if he’s even alive, so to him, they are just faceless entities around him. It isn’t until he starts making friends with people, such as Tomohiro, that the X’s start to peel off and he is able to see them and allow them to see him.
There is a theme throughout this movie about pushing people away. Shoya is always pushing those around him away, locking his emotions up and isolating himself. He immediately hates Shoko because she is different and, as he says, “weird.” It was so easy for him to just brush off new friends, new experiences, new challenges, and so he misses out on so many potentially wonderful things. He is empty, so much so that he couldn’t care less if he lives or dies. The film does an incredible job of presenting this theme, and how Shoya deals with this mindset once he encounters Shoko again.
Easily the standout of this movie is the incredible characters that are full of so much depth and richness. Shoko is just such a wonderful character, and easily my favorite. Because she is deaf, most of her dialogue is through sign language, notebook writings, or text messages. The sign language was the most interesting form, in my opinion, because it forced the emotions and meaning of many scenes to be reliant on visuals, rather than spoken words. I am convinced that you could watch this film without subtitles, having no knowledge of the Japanese language, and still be able to comprehend this movie because of its visual storytelling. Another well used element of Shoko’s deafness was her inability to speak properly. Her flawed speech makes for multiple moments of miscommunication that work as great plot devices. Shoya was also a great character, starting out as a pretty irredeemable person that I personally hated watching. Watching him do what he does, you just want to reach into the movie and slap his face! It is amazing that the film could present its main character this way, and still manage to make me love him by the end. Tomohiro was great as Shoya’s first friend, and really his first ray of hope that he could go beyond his pathetic existence. Ueno is another very complex character, who I urge you to keep an eye on throughout the film. Yuzu as well, who I cannot talk much about because it would spoil an early reveal. Honestly every character is fantastic in this movie, and I could go on for pages just analyzing what each one means to Shoya, and gushing over how much I loved them.
As far as flaws, I really don’t have any. That isn’t to say that this is a perfect movie, but I could not find any problems worth mentioning. There were some moments that felt a little slow, but they all serve to make for great payoff soon after. I mentioned visual storytelling being a big part of this film, so I would say not to look away from the screen, even during moments with no dialogue.
If I did not make myself clear enough, I loved this movie quite a lot! I try my best not to throw around the “M” word too much, but I truly believe this film is an animated masterpiece. I felt that way about Your Name, which I saw earlier this year, and I feel that way about A Silent Voice as well. A Silent Voice is an emotional film that will likely bring tears to the eyes of even the most stoic viewers. It blends visual storytelling with clever dialogue, is populated with a wonderful cast of characters that are voiced beautifully, and uses a character’s handicap to create very unique and engaging plot elements, much like Rain Man with Tom Cruise and Dustin Hoffman. I highly recommend checking this movie out as soon as possible. For those who feel weary watching animated movies, for whatever reason, or don’t like foreign movies in their original language, I beg you to give this one a chance because it really does have a lot to offer.
Writing this review was an absolute pleasure. Movies like these bring out the passion I feel when writing about movies more than ever, and they remind me why I love film as much as I do. The last time I felt this enthusiastic writing a review was one of my first reviews, Your Name, a very similarly toned movie to this one. Japanese animated movies often have creative, intelligent, and imaginative stories that are few and far between in America unless they’re from a company like Pixar. I just wish these movies would get the recognition they deserve in the states, and one day find their place in wide releases on the big screen. Until then, I urge anime fans to go to their theaters whenever a Japanese animated film is showing to give your support! AMC Theaters are currently hosting a string of events throughout the remainder of 2017 where they are showing every Studio Ghibli movie for two nights each. Studio Ghibli is known for being one of the greatest animation companies of all time, and their films are often quintessential in the animated film industry, so it is quite amazing that we now have the opportunity to see them on the silver screen!
[P.S. I am in no way affiliated with anyone when writing this or any other review, I am writing purely out of passion and not for any monetary gain.]