Updated: Sep 19, 2020
*This is a review for the Japanese dub of A Silent Voice*
Naoko Yamada's film A Silent Voice, based on the manga of the same name by Yoshitoki Oima, is an extremely heavy film, with themes of suicide, bullying, depression, anxiety and alienation present throughout its 130-minute runtime. The story revolves around a teenager, Shoya, who tries to befriend Shoya, a girl with a hearing impairment that he bullied in grade school, and atone for his actions. The decision to focus on the former bully instead of the bullied may also be triggering to some, but the film is better for it. Shoya’s search for redemption and growth as a character are beautifully done as he learns what it means to be friends with others and how to cope with his past and present. Shoko’s character is just as compelling as she goes through life trying to cope with how she feels she is an inconvenience to others due to her impairment, while also trying to navigate through the hurt that she has had to endure all these years.
Together the two have amazing onscreen chemistry as they communicate through sign language and broken speech stemming from Shoko’s desire to seem normal and Shoya always speaking when he signs, which more than likely is to help the audience understand what is going on. Their interactions lead to truly special moments — some cute, others extremely moving. These moments can be attributed to the film’s gorgeous animation. Coming from legendary animation studio Kyoto Animation, the bright colors and fluid animation are a true marvel for any eyes lucky enough to behold it.
The supporting cast is full of characters from different backgrounds and each serves a purpose no matter how small their role. Shoya’s new friends may not all be fleshed out, but they help aid in moving the story along and nobody feels out of place. One of the most endearing and annoying characters is Tomohiro Nagatsuka, who affectionately calls Shoya, Ya-Sho. His lonely nature and excitement to finally have a friend in Shoya is very well presented, giving the two a spark in their personalities that allow for Shoya's development. Other characters such as Naoka Ueno (one of the girls who bullied Shoko as a child) and Miyoko Sahara, (one of the only girls who tried to be nice to Shoko when they were younger) also have their own stories that make the story feel well fleshed out due to its surrounding characters.
The voice actors bring a degree of reality in their execution, allowing their characters to be fully realized. There is one scene where Shoya (Miyu Irino), in a desperate attempt to get Shoko’s (Saori Hayami) attention, bellows her name at the top of his lungs. In another scene, taking place near the beginning of the film when the two are still children, Shoko cries, lashing out at Shoyo as she screams “I’m trying my best.” Scenes like this are effective in bringing emotion due to how believable they are.
The soundtrack for A Silent Voice also adds to the film’s hefty feel. The most moving out of all of them," lit(var)," comes at the very end. Each song accompanies its scene gracefully, encapsulating the feelings of youth, grief, confusion or whatever else the film may call for.
A Silent Voice is a rare type of film. It is extremely important and should be shown in schools to advocate for bullying to end and to raise awareness about mental health. It makes bold choices with its storytelling, characters and plot devices. Thankfully, every single one of them pays off.
A Silent Voice is available on Netflix, Blu-Ray, DVD, and Digital.