May 24, 2017
A quick guide to the ranking system:
8.5 – 10 : Loved it.
6.5 – 8 : Liked it.
4.5 – 6 : Worth a watch.
2.5 – 4 : Didn’t like it.
0.5 – 2 : Hated it.
0 : Watching paint dry.
Director: Naoko Yamada.
Length: 129 minutes.
Mid-credits scene? No.
After-credits scene? No.
Warning: this review has spoilers for the movie A Silent Voice. Read part I for a spoiler-free preview/review!
While I liked A Silent Voice, or Koe no Katachi / 聲の形, I thought that it tried to pack way too much story into two hours - a problem most likely a symptom of trying to coherently fit 7 volumes or 62 chapters of content from the manga into the film - and as a result, A Silent Voice felt very rushed overall. This, I think, was at its worst near the end of the film, where everything seemed to just conveniently work out in the main character’s favor, but let’s get to that a bit later.
The film opens when our characters are still in elementary school. We are quickly introduced to the film’s protagonist Shoya Ishida (Mayu Matsuoka and later Miyu Irino), whom we will follow for the majority of the rest of the film. A montage, set to the tune of My Generation by The Who, shows us Ishida’s mischievous character, as he fools around with his friends Kazuki Shimada (Sachiko Kojima and later Ryo Nishitani) and Keisuke Hirose (Hana Takeda and later Takuya Masumoto). The unorthodox song choice itself works well in the context of the film, and describes Ishida quite well. In an interview with Picturehouse, director Naoko Yamada explained the song choice, saying, “This is the story of Shoya and when he was at junior school he felt he was invincible but he was bored and frustrated. What better song to show both what he is and who he is?” Have a listen to the song in its entirety directly below.
This blissful status quo is then disrupted by the introduction of the new girl at school, Shoko Nishimiya (Saori Hayami), who happens to be deaf. Surrounded by students who refuse to learn sign language and thus unable to communicate without a notebook, life at school proves difficult for her, as she attempts to fit into an environment that seemingly does not care for her disability. Things then get worse, as Shoko’s classmates turn on her and begin to bully her, spearheaded by none other than Ishida. After numerous incidents and many violently lost hearing aids, the school finally takes notice. Both teachers and classmates alike then accuse and ostracize Ishida of being the sole bully. As Ishida’s school life plunges in a downward spiral, he takes it out on Shoko, who then transfers to another school, which marks the end of this section.
After a time jump to high school, we then meet the friendless, depressed Ishida. In a last ditch effort to atone for the sins of his past before a planned suicide, Ishida finds and attempts to reconcile with Shoko. The event then thrusts Ishida on a path of new friendships and renewed relationships.
While the film focuses largely on Shoko and Ishida, it also features a large supporting cast of characters, most of which blip in and out of the story whenever necessary. The result is that most of their arcs are poorly resolved. For instance, Miyoko Sahara (Yui Ishikawa), Miki Kawai (Megumi Han), and Satoshi Mashiba (Toshiyuki Toyonaga) all barely feature in the movie, despite their roles as Ishida and Shoko’s friends. It becomes especially difficult to understand the emotional impact of their friendship, and later breaking and remaking of said friendship, when we hardly know anything about them. Mashiba’s inclusion, in particular, was confusing as he served absolutely no purpose and Ishida’s remark that Mashiba was an outsider felt less like an insult and more like a statement of fact.
Furthermore, perhaps due to their lack of screentime, some of their less flattering traits were glossed over. Kawai was by far the worst offender, and I came out of the film with an intense dislike for her character; everyone just ignores how vain and narcissistic Kawai is, and how she continuously shifts blame on everyone but herself, even at the very end. Naoko Ueno (Yuki Kaneko) left a similarly bad taste in my mouth, and is even forgiven at the end simply because she insults Shoko in sign language instead. The film never dwells on why she blatantly assaults and bullies Shoko and even Shoko’s mother (Akiko Hiramatsu), and how she still somehow maintains a friendship with the rest of the gang. After reading up on her character as portrayed in the manga, a lot of her actions, while not more palatable, at least become more understandable. That extra understanding would certainly be welcome in the film.
In fact, I think most of the friends can be largely summed up by Ishida’s remark to his “best friend” Tomohiro Nagatsuka (Kensho Ono) during the bridge breakup bonanza, where Ishida says something to the effect of, “We barely met, you hardly know me.” Luckily, the film, again, mainly follows Shoko and Ishida. Though, I will admit I really enjoyed Nagatsuka’s character, as well as Shoko’s little sister Yuzuru (Aoi Yuki), and that the statement doesn’t apply to all of Ishida and Shoko’s friends.
The resolution of the film also seemed a bit convenient, in that everything just works out for Ishida after he saves Shoko from the balcony. His friends all seem to forgive him readily after he wakes from his coma, despite ignoring him for however long in the past. And while that does seem like a realistic reaction, it also means that Ishida didn’t have to put any work in to mend the relationships he broke. Considering the movie was about his redemption from bully to friend, it was a bit disappointing to see.
That said, the visuals were gorgeous and the level of detail in the background is at times almost indistinguishable from real life - if you don’t believe me, check out this cool Reddit post by /u/Arcanonph. The film also includes a number of scenes near and around water, and that’s expectedly fantastically animated. Flower and wave imagery is abundant in the film as well, and it’s weaved quite naturally into the film and, of course, beautiful. The blue X’s on the people Ishida couldn’t talk to was also an interesting stylistic choice.
The flashbacks were also mostly well done. I thought that the final scene, when Ishida stands alone in the school fair and begins to see all of the friends he made and was able to reconcile with, is especially profound.
On a stranger note, this film also adds to the mystery of the allure of pony tails, which plays a miniscule role in the story. This is the second time I’ve seen a pony tail “fetish” in a movie; the other is the amazing Taiwanese film You Are the Apple of My Eye or 那些年,我們一起追的女孩. As far as I can tell, the only link between the two films is that they are East-Asian. Somebody please tell me, because this has been gnawing on brain, is this an East-Asian thing or what?
But anyways, initially, I came out of the movie mildly annoyed at how convenient certain things are and how unlikeable some of the characters are, but the more I think about it, the more I find myself wanting to watch the film again. Ultimately, it does deal with some very heavy topics - such as suicide, anxiety, depression, and so on - and it largely does it in a way that isn’t overly dark or hard to watch. It also strikes the difficult balance of not taking the issues too lightly as well, and I think that that in itself is quite an achievement for the film. But at the same time, there are some real issues with the film, which I find hard to just ignore.
So overall, I liked the movie, there were parts of it that I absolutely loved, but there are flaws: 7/10
We’ll be showing A Silent Voice at 19:00 on the 23rd and 25th of May; you can get tickets at the door from 18:45. Oh, and if you haven’t already, read part I for a preview of the film.
Thank you for reading! You can find more previews and reviews like this one here! If you have any questions, you can e-mail the cinema at email@example.com or me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Check out our Twitter and Facebook for more details, or if you don’t have Facebook or Twitter, the Imperial Cinema website’s got all your needs covered!
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