Writer: Reiko Yoshida (screenplay), Yoshitoki Oima (manga)
Cast: Mayu Matsuoka, Saori Hayami
Running time: 129mins
What’s the story: Deaf schoolgirl Shōko moves to a new elementary school, but the bullying she receives, particularly from class delinquent Shōya, causes her to transfer. Years later in high school, Shōya vows to make amends with Shōko.
What’s the verdict: A smash hit in Japan, A Silent Voice may have a harder time winning over us cynical Brits. But stick with it and you’ll be charmed long before the luxurious 129-minute running time has elapsed.
For those who balk at excessive displays of sentiment, the opening twenty minutes will be toughest to traverse. Opening with lead character Shōya (Matsuoka) sorting out debts with his hairdresser mum and vowing to commit suicide, there is a lengthy flashback to the cause of his misery: the day in elementary school when the deaf girl Shōko (Hayami) joined his class.
Addicted to trouble, Shōya cannot resist taunting the newcomer, egged on by the tacit approval of the cool kids in class. Frequent, seismic tonal shifts – humour, pathos, even horror when Shōya yanks out Shōko’s hearing aids and blood drips off her earlobes – prevent the audience getting comfortable.
Precisely the point. Following Shōko’s transfer due to the torment, Shōya is ostracised by his classmates and, with the lad now in high school, he and the film calm down so he can reflect on his past deeds and attempt to right those wrongs with the girl he bullied.
In short, A Silent Voice is a big, messy slice of emotional peaks and troughs; a perfect movie about teen years then.
Working from Yoshitoki Oima’s long-running manga, director Naoko Yamada and writer Reiko Yoshida make this a story of the long, sometimes difficult road to redemption, populated with memorable characters from the original comic. That suicide subplot which appears to a set-up to the film’s climax comes and goes surprisingly early on.
Even nominal villains receive depth and shading in a non-fantasy film that embraces animation to depict adolescent angst and elation as the hyperreal sensory state it seems at the time (with adult characters on hand to provide perspective on all this).
Points too for a plot that champions personal growth and understanding over conflict and self-centeredness.
Full credit to Yamada and her team, A Silent Voice is a visually beautiful evocation of youth, with traditional Japanese character animation offset by richly detailed background details, typically coloured in a magic hour orange glow.
A big emotional ending is a foregone conclusion. And while the syrup may still be slightly too thick for our jaded palates, you won’t be mad you heeded A Silent Voice’s call.
Rob Daniel Twitter: rob_a_Daniel
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