Movie Review: A Silent Voice
The Academy Awards may have silenced Japanese Animation for the second year in a row, but A Silent Voice demands to be heard.
For two years straight, the Anime community has been up in arms at The Oscars for snubbing films that they feel merit inclusion in the awards ceremony. Last year the hubbub was about Your Name, a gender-bender film with a novel ending. I didn’t really think it was a gigantic snub, as Your Name was… okay. It was so “meh” in fact, that it’s been nearly a year to the day since I watched the full movie, and I haven’t even gotten around to a review.
This year is different. The film up for consideration this time is A Silent Voice, a slice of life narrative dealing with topics such as bullying, suicide, and how deaf children integrate into society. It’s based on a fantastic manga of the same name, and the movie is likewise fantastic. The snub feels almost vindictive this time around: what with The Boss Baby getting a nod and all.
A Silent Voice (2017)
Alternately Titled: The Shape of Voice
Shoya Ishida has all his affairs in order. He’s taken the time to put in his notice at his job and collect his last paycheck. He’s sold all his belongings and cleaned out his savings account. Shoya leaves all of this money to his mother, and begins his walk to the bridge where he will commit suicide. Right before he jumps, a group of children at play causes him to remember his own youth; and Shoko, the deaf girl that altered the path of his life.
The Best Slice
One genre in Japanese Anime movies that I keep coming back to is the “slice of life” category. The reason is that it continues to generate fresh stories in spite of being one of the oldest, most rehashed genres in Anime. Anime and Manga are heavily reliant on meme, trope, and shared cultural history in their stories. For example, if the story is centered in a high school, you’d be a fool to bet against seeing a cultural festival (with BOTH a maid cafe and a haunted house) and the celebration of Tanabata.
In many movie genres this reliance on routine has led to cookie cutter, stale as year old bread stories. And yes, 8 out of 10 slice of life stories are thin gruel. It’s those other 2 that make it all worthwhile. They use the tried and true as a backbone, and then move in their own unique direction.
A Silent Voice does just that; it reexamines the day to day life of school children (the usual), but it throws Shoko into that staid narrative to show these people who they really are. Almost all the characters, from Shoya, to his friends, to the teachers grow to resent and bully Shoko for inconveniencing their by-the-numbers life. When things come to a head, they all have to deal with being shown their true selves; they all imagined themselves the protagonist in their own generic slice of life tale, but it turns out they are the villains in someone else’s waking nightmare.
The story of A Silent Voice can get really dark, and sad, and infuriating. But it can also be sweet, and relaxing, and earnest. Yoshitoki Ooima wrote a wonderfully balanced manga, and the movie follows it beat for beat. You never get too disillusioned or upset, but the tender moments never last either. It’s very real.
Heightening the reality is the pains Ooima took at making his story authentic. He partnered with the Japanese Federation of the Deaf to make sure he told a tale that was realistic and respectful. All the characters feel genuine: both in their strengths and their flaws. Jealousy, infatuation, friendship and betrayal all play naturally. Nothing in this story (including the suicide attempt) would have been out of place in my middle school life.
The final aspect that brings it home is the artwork. Ooima’s art is beautiful… in a homely kind of way. It is a master’s painting of a woman washing laundry. His characters all look distinctive without being charicatures. And the piece de resistance is his work on faces: he has incredibly expressive facial stylings, and they really convey a thousand words. Which helps when one of your characters doesn’t speak. The art team for A Silent Voice take Ooima’s style and knock it dead: the movie looks exactly like a flip book of the manga.
A Flaw in a Tale of Flaws (Flawception?)
The only quibble I had with the tale was Shoko’s voice actress. And it wasn’t because she didn’t have a lovely voice (Saori Hayami voices some characters in other anime movies I love); it’s that it’s too lovely. She’s a professional singer and voice actress, and it doesn’t translate all that well when she tries to speak like a deaf-from-birth girl. In the manga, there’s a scene where Shoko tries to sing in music class in her fervent desire to fit in; the arrhythmic, atonal sounds visibly discomfort her classmates. When they do this scene in the movie it comes across comically: because it’s bad singing, not alien attempts at singing.
Coming from a source that tried it’s best to be respectful to the deaf, I wished they had cast a deaf actor to do the role. It would have been more effective for the character.
Forgive but don’t Forget
I guess I should forgive the Academy; forgiveness is the underlying premise of A Silent Voice. Hopefully Japan will keep pumping out gems and eventually the Oscars will let them shine on a larger stage. Until that day, I hope reviews like this can point people to stories like this; ones that are beautiful, relatable, and deep. A Silent Voice is currently out on DVD/Blu Ray in Japan; hopefully it makes it’s way stateside soon.