Naoko Yamada’s A Silent Voice may come off to some as a film about bullying and mankind's self-centered need to fit in. The film is often as ethereal as it is difficult to swallow because of its choice to portray of childhood ostricization with unflinching gravitas. However, if you can stomach the film at its heaviest moments, then you will find it contains a truly touching message about healing and finding personal paths towards redemption.
A Silent Voice begins in an abrupt and then asks audiences to walk backwards and forwards from there. Viewers meet one of the film’s leads as Shoya Ishida goes through his usual routine as a high school student, but it doesn't take long to figure out just what the boy is doing. When the audience is spun into a flashback, they discover Shoya and his self-harming habits were woven into him years ago after meeting a girl in elementary school.
As the flashback moves, Shoya shows his self-absorbed and juvenile colors as he pins his attention on Shoko Nishimiya, a hearing-impaired transfer student whom he cannot understand. Frustrated by the newcomer, Shoya's classmates slowly provoke him into bullying Shoko in what they consider to be a harmless way, but A Silent Voice proves them all wrong when Shoya takes his games too far.
When audiences reunite eventually reunite Shoya in present day, they discover the aftermath of his days as a bully. The boy has become a pariah amongst his peers, beaten down because of his gossiped past and left to live an exiled life in pieces. However, Shoya hopes he can change his past - and even himself - by seeking out Shoko and earning her forgiveness for his past behavior. However, things don’t go quite as he had planned though they do turn out for the best.
A Silent Voice makes no excuses for its depiction of bullying and the careless brutality its characters show towards one another. Both Shoya and Shoko sag underneath the weigh of the complexes their childhoods gifted them, but the film makes it clear that all hope isn't lost for the pair. While Shoya slowly embarks on a journey towards redemption, Shoko brings her own demons of self-hatred to light in order for them to be exorcised.
The film doesn’t shy away from the most isolating emotions which any coming-of-age teenager may feel, so it leans on its fleshed-out leads to distribute the weight. At two hours long, A Silent Voice feels rightly heavy thanks to its gut-wrenching progression, but Yamada counters that fullness with a light animation style that can only be called stunning.
The director is being hailed as of Japan’s rising talents, and A Silent Voice only proves what Yamada can do when given a team to collaborate with. Produced by Kyoto Animation, the film is saturated with soft color palattes and hazy imagery that makes Shoya’s hometown more beautiful than it has a right to be. The film's angles shift to highlight the boy’s crippling social anxiety and Shoko’s reliance on visuals in turn. There’s no shortage of breathtaking scenery to enjoy whilst watching A Silent Voice, but the film’s visual complexity ultimately serves to compliment its characters and their rousing journeys.
A Silent Voice shines in its honest and sometimes scary look into the roiling emotions that come with growing up. Shoya and Shoko are never held back from experiencing their truest selves even if it leaves audiences feeling overwhelmed and themselves hurt. There is a lot packed into its condensed story, but A Silent Voice does not skimp on showing how once-burned relationships can cultivate something life-altering if given the chance. The movie is an empowering if somewhat painful reminder to audiences that redemption can come from the most unexpected of places. A Silent Voice will still sit with you once it end, and its poignant echoes only solidify the film as being one of this year’s most resonate if you listen close.