A Silent Voice

Michael Potts | 18/04/2017

Voice and a lack of a common tongue is a clear point of division between people and groups in our world, but there are many common languages that unite us in shared experience. A Silent Voice, among other themes, gives viewers a perspective on the universal language of pain.

An adaptation of a seven-part manga series, the film tells the story of high school students Shoya Ishida (Miyu Irino), from whose perspective the story is told, and Shoko Nishimiya (Saori Hayami), and their parallel, yet intertwined, lives. The pair share a class briefly in elementary school, where Shoko, who is deaf but for a hearing aid that gives her a very limited scope of hearing, is the victim of sustained bullying by the majority of her class, chief among her tormentors being Shoya himself. The experience does not end well for either of them. Many years later, the two reconnect and begin to form a budding friendship, though the scars of the past remain.

Apart from the two leads, there is a wide cast of supporting characters, who are the friends and family of Shoya and Shoko. Their quality varies, and it’s not entirely clear why one or two were included when they add little to nothing to the narrative that couldn’t be accomplished by giving their lines or actions to someone else. That said, condensing a seven volume comic into a little over two hours is no easy task and the contributions of the secondary characters far outweigh what’s lost by a slightly bloated cast. Standouts are Shoko’s younger sister, Yuzuru (Aoi Yuki), and classmates Naoka Ueno (Yuki Kaneko) and Tomohiro Nagatsuka (Kensho Ono), the latter of which plays much of the comic relief. Not all of the humour hits the mark, but it is consistent and sincere enough to help the film instead of hinder it.

But, in the end, this is the story of Shoya and Shoko, and A Silent Voice shines brightest in its exploration of the relationship and development between the one-time tormentor and tormented. Despite the opposite roles they played in elementary school, it becomes clear that both suffer from the very same emotional anguish, though for each it comes from completely different sources. Both are deaf to the world, in a way, but only with one of them is it self-inflicted. The film is dark in places, but balances a focus on inner pain by looking at questions of reconciliation and friendship, and what it means to strive for and hold both. It must be said that A Silent Voice seems to be written by people who, at least on some level, understand guilt and self-loathing, but also the healing achieved through friends, family and reconciliation.

The mix of emotions is well captured in the voice cast, with all doing a commendable job. It is Saori Hayami’s portrayal of Shoko, however, that merits special mention. Shoko, having her hearing impairment, is unable to properly pronounce words and Hayami does well to emulate this speech pattern. Whenever Shoko abandons writing or sign language, it’s easy to feel the sincere effort put into forming sentences, and the painful frustration that emerges whenever she is pushed by someone who claims not to understand her, either through wilful ignorance or contemptuous laziness.

The film’s excellent voice work is complemented by fluid and colourful animation. It is not the beautiful visual spectacle that was Your Name, which recently screened in Australia and broke Japanese box office records, but this is a deliberate choice, given the film tells a somewhat more restrained story. Even so, scenes of fireworks against a night sky or of fish swimming peacefully down a shallow stream do much to strengthen and contrast the dramatic moments within.

Conclusion

Ultimately, A Silent Voice is a genuine, well presented journey that almost all viewers should be able to empathise with. It is both emotionally and visually satisfying. It can be recommended to anime and non-anime fans alike, but as it doesn’t break the mould of the medium, your mileage may differ if you fall into the second category.