A Silent Voice is about the lives of a deaf girl and her bully. It is not light viewing. In fact, it is exhausting in places. It is long, detailed, and lingers on parts of the story like an artist painting meticulous backgrounds. But it is an important film, worth watching in installments if necessary.
The film begins with Shoyo-on-the-bridge, then turns around to the backstory.
Shoko is a deaf girl who is severely bullied at school. Her mother is raising her alone after her father cruelly rejected them both on account of her deafness. While doing the best she can, her mother cannot understand and gives some very bad advice. And while her grandmother is a loving presence, she faces her troubles alone.
Many of her classmates take part in the bullying. A boy, Shoyo, is the main instigator. At some point Shoko is pulled out of the school and the class turns on Shoyo as the scapegoat. Now, he is bullied, and overwhelmed by guilt as well. He withdraws. He sells his possessions. He begins trying to make restitution for the damage he has done. He marks a last day on his calendar.
Shoko is, to put it mildly, not immediately accepting of Shoyo’s overtures. And neither are all his former friends with whom he is trying to make amends. Or Shoko’s mother, or her younger sibling. Is redemption even possible? This question, along with the somewhat mysterious nature of friendship, is the story.
The answer lies in doubt as Shoyo makes progress, but Shoko is navigating her own agony. One evening after Shoko’s grandmother dies, she excuses herself from a fireworks festival. Shoyo signs “See you later” to her but she does not give the expected response. He goes to her apartment, to find her standing on the balcony railing, many floors up. He lunges forward to catch her, but stumbles on furniture…
Several reviewers felt that Silent Voice would have had much more impact, had it not been released in the same year as Your Name. But while Makoto Shinkai’s blockbuster is fun to watch, Silent Voice can be painful. Or at least, it was for me. Being on the receiving end of abuse and bullying is no abstraction for me. Many people do not understand how deep the harm can go, or how long-lasting it can be.
As with Tatsuyuki Nagai’s Anohana, I suggest reading the manga if you can, before seeing the film. The story branches out to many of Shoyo’s classmates as they mature and handle their own guilt. 130 minutes is scarcely enough to cover seven volumes.
The artistic style of the film closely matches that of the manga. The soundtrack frames moments of emotion, but unlike some other films you probably wouldn’t listen to it while you work. At least, not where your co-workers could see you suddenly burst into tears for no apparent reason.
In the end, Shoyo and Shoko are the only people with any hope of understanding the other.
- For a very detailed account with production notes, see Wikipedia: A Silent Voice
- Video: Kamimashita explores the psychology of forgiveness in the film, the bystander effect, bullying in Japan, and more.
- Video: the Beyond Ghibli review is itself a masterpiece of editing and narration, and explains the situation with disability acceptance in Japan. The film has the endorsement of Japan’s Federation of the Deaf.
- Video: the Under The Scope review analyzes communication in the film
- Video: OMG check out this fan-made trailer. It’s in French but if you have seen the film you know what’s going on. Fan trailers are often better than the ones put out by the studio that made the film.