A Silent Voice

Director: Naoko Yamada
Writers: Yoshitoki Oima, Reiko Yoshido, Kiyoshi Shigematsu
Music by: Kensuke Ushio
Cinematography by: Kazuya Takao
Art Direction by: Mutsuo Shinohara
Edited by: Kengo Shigemura
Full Cast & Crew: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt5323662/fullcredits?ref_=tt_ov_st_sm

A Silent Voice is one of those movies where the second I finished seeing it, I knew I had to write a review for it. From what I can tell, it’s not very well-known, and I firmly believe that it’s one of those movies that’s so good, and has such a firm grasp on the human condition, that everyone should see it at least once. The thing is, though, movies like that are hard to talk about, because just listing all the things they do right isn’t enough. I’ve been struggling to put together a review for Everything Everywhere All At Once for literal MONTHS now for that exact reason. Because a movie can do everything right on paper, and not be an instant masterpiece, and a masterpiece doesn’t necessarily have to do everything right. At the end of the day, art criticism is less about technicalities and more about emotion, and that’s something that’s a lot harder to articulate. But I loved this movie, and I’m a stubborn son of a bitch, so I’m going to try anyway.

At its core, A Silent Voice is a movie about finding humanity. It presents its audience with characters who most of us would consider bad people and asks us to follow them and watch them struggle with their own choices and actions, while at the same time presenting us with the victims of those choices and asking us to take a long hard look at how difficult the road to recovery from victimization truly is. The closest thing to a protagonist that A Silent Voice has is a young man named Shôya. When he was a boy in Elementary School, he horribly harassed and bullied a deaf girl named Shoko. In fact, he was so unrelentingly cruel to her (despite her many attempts to reach out to him and mend things), that he eventually drives her out of the school. While he was far from the only kid to bully her, he was by far the worst, and the other kids used that to pin all of their wrongdoings on him as well. The first 30 or so minutes of the movie are a series of flashbacks to these formative years to Shôya, interspersed with some scenes of him as an older teenager (18 or 19) set in the present.

Now, if this were a lesser movie, it would spend the entire time focussing on Shôya, and that would be it, but in a surprise move I honestly didn’t see coming, Shoko is the film’s other protagonist. The main thrust of the narrative is her and Shôya meeting as adults, and him attempting to become friends with her in order to atone for his past actions. I don’t really want to get a lot deeper into it than that, because this is a movie that I want all of you reading this review to go see, but suffice it to say that every time I thought it had laid all of its cards on the table in terms of characters, it somehow managed to surprise me. A Silent Voice is not a movie with good and bad people, it instead paints everyone in complex shades of grey. Everyone is as flawed as they are human, to the point where it’s hard to tell whether their humanity is derived from their flaws, or their flaws from their humanity.

It’s also a film that plays with audience expectations, particularly in terms of catharsis. Many dramas of this nature have a fairly standard arc to them that makes even the good ones somewhat easy to predict. You have two characters who have some fundamental difference, and they begin to reconcile throughout act one. Act two then consists of them growing closer as they overcome various challenges, until they’re faced with a climactic one that places a new wedge between them. Then act three features them both growing as people, overcoming the final wedge, and ending on a happy note. Or, in the case of some more tragic stories, growing through the process of failing to overcome the final wedge. This movie…..is not that. It has almost a cyclical nature to it, and is very careful in the way that it plays with audience catharsis. Even when things are at a happier note, there is sobriety to the tone that kept me on edge throughout. In fact, the only time I ever found myself relaxing was as the credits began to roll at the end. It was that engaging, and that tense of a drama from beginning to end.

Now, I’ve talked a lot about what it gets right on a broader level, but there’s also a lot of impressive technical shit and minutia to break down here, so let’s quickly run through some of that. The animation throughout this film is drop dead gorgeous. The level of detail in the characters, the way emotions are drawn visually on the screen (there’s an incredibly creative manifestation of social anxiety that’s used throughout), and the environments are bright and full of life. It also has a score to die for. I find that I’m very rarely impressed by animated movies’ scores (with obvious exceptions such as The Incredibles), but this one was fucking fantastic. Kensuke Ushio did a great job having the score enhance the emotions of the film throughout. There were very few moments when the score was distractingly in my face, but I was consistently awed by how well it captured the different moods that the movie moves between.

One thing to keep in mind is that I watched the dubbed version of the movie, because that was what I had immediately at hand, so I can’t really comment on the voice acting. The dub was adequate at portraying what it needed to portray, but this was definitely a film that shined through its visual storytelling, rather than dialogue.

A Silent Voice tackles complex and difficult topics with a deft hand and a nuance that most stories of this nature lack. It’s a must see for anyone who has ever been in a school environment, and has such a strong grasp on the human condition that there are very few people who won’t find a portion of the movie to connect with. Its thematic core is rock solid, its animation is gorgeous, and it has one of the best scores I’ve heard in a very long time. A Silent Voice is not the kind of movie to make you tear up in the moment, but it is nonetheless a deeply moving piece that will stick with you for a long time after you finish watching it. Despite being perhaps a tad too long, it is a movie I whole-heartedly recommend, and I hope it has as much of an impact on you as it did on me.

A Silent Voice is currently available on Netflix in Japanese, with English subtitles, and you can find the dub for free on the internet with just a couple google searches.

I’d also like to extend an enormous thank you to discord user 1saaa#4371 for recommending the movie to me, and harassing me until I watched it with him.

Written on 06/18/2022

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