Based on the popular manga by Yoshitoki Oima, the film follows class bully Shoya Ishida who starts picking on the new girl Shoko Nishimiya simply because she is different. She cannot hear, uses a notebook and sign language to communicate and wears a hearing aid. Always trying her best to explain herself through either writing or signing, Nishimiya’s abnormalities certainly don’t work in her favour as we see her severely bullied physiologically and physically throughout elementary school. The worst thing of all, she thinks she deserves it. After years of teasing people it seems Ishida’s reputation as a bully follows him around leaving him lonely and vulnerable to the harsh reality of growing up with no one to confide in.
Initially some people may be deterred by this films distinct style. Although this is what makes it stand above the rest and ultimately make it much more human. The subject matter alone feels very close to home (there is no Ghibli magic here to save our characters) and directional choices of focusing on hands, feet and eyes in particular as the story unfolds illustrates this greatly. This is a deep and poignant exploration of sentimentality and feelings where so much is revealed through the use of hands, feet and facial expressions, and no matter how sad this film will make you feel, there is a reason for everything that happens on screen.
In many ways this is coming of age story. Yamada brings love, hope and sadness to this engrossing tale as we journey with Ishida on his path of forgiveness. Virtually every character, parental figures included, learn to love other people and most importantly love themselves. Nishimiya and Ishida are similar in that they hate themselves and act out accordingly to gain some sort of attention even if it’s not the affection they truly desire. Their motivation on both sides is hard-hitting and warranted that despite everything that has happened you can’t help but empathise with each individual as the credits roll.
Every teenager across the globe should be made to watch this and of course hunt down the original source material. This offers uncomfortable moments illustrating exactly how cruel and brutal bullying at school can be. The message here is an integral one captured by Yamada in a heartbreakingly beautiful and emotional manner. By no means will A Silent Voice leave you feeling warm and fuzzy – just allow this memorable piece of animation to take hold of you and conjure up feelings you thought were buried deep inside.
A Silent Voice is released on Wednesday 17th March