Director: Naoko Yamada
Cast: Saori Hayami, Miyu Irino, Aoi Yuki, Kensho Ono
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When Shoya thinks back to his elementary school days, he can’t help but feel guilty. Having spent most of his time bullying his deaf classmate, Shoko, to alleviate his boredom, and encouraging others to do the same, it was no wonder that Shoko eventually changed schools. Now in high school, and ostracised by everyone around him because of his past, he’s convinced that he should end it all — but not before he sees Shoko one last time to apologise.
When discussing A Silent Voice, director Naoko Yamada has said repeatedly that it’s a story about love and friendship. On the one hand, she is right. When Shoya meets Shoko again something changes in him, he feels hope for the first time in years, he’s determined to make up for his mistakes and he wants to become friends. At first, she doesn’t know how to react – she’s surprised to see him again, and it’s only after he shows her how much he’s changes that they start to become close. Shoko has her own demons too, ones that she keeps hidden deep in her heart, and the only way she can get over them is with Shoya.
While meeting Shoko gives him hope, Shoya still finds it hard to trust those around him. As he becomes closer to Shoko, though, he finds he can open himself up again and soon the pair have a group of friends — old and new — who are willing to support them. Although Shoko and Shoya are the heart of the story, their friends are the rock that supports them and it’s good that Naoko Yamada and writer Reiko Yoshida can give each character the time to shine. From Shoya’s self-titled best friend Tomohiro to Shoko’s little sister, Yuzuru, they each play an important role in the lead character’s lives, helping them to evolve and learn to overcome their demons. Each character is balanced well, but it’s Shoko and Shoya who are the most impressive, especially thanks to voice actor Saori Hayami’s delicately powerful performance as Shoko.
A Silent Voice is certainly something different to what Kyoto Animation has made before. Shows like K-On! and Tamago Love Market (both of which were helmed by Naoko Yamada) are light-hearted takes on school life, but Yamada’s new film is an emotional coming-of-age film that will make you laugh and cry. It’s so much more than a love story; it’s a film that isn’t afraid to shy away from difficult topics, such as bullying and teenage suicide. Of course, these themes are at the centre of Yoshitaka Oima’s manga, which the film is based on, but it’s good to see Kyoto Animation tackle a topic like this head on. It looks at anxiety and depression through the lens of Shoya and Shoko’s fledgling friendship, and this is what makes it such a powerful film.
Speaking of the film’s original source, fans of the manga will be happy to see that this is a faithful rendition of Oima’s story. While it’s true that certain subplots were taken out because of time-constraints, condensing a seven-volume series into a 129-minute film isn’t easy. This is an important film, and, while it does feel drawn out at times, there doesn’t seem to be any other way for this story to be told.
A Silent Voice is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription.
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