To Wax Philosophy or Sociology in A Silent Voice, Where Forth Art Thou?

31 Mar

By Ed Sum
(The Vintage Tempest)

* Spoiler Alert

A Silent Voice is coming to home video in North America on April 2nd courtesy of Shout! Factory. This movie based on Yoshitoki Ōima’s manga of the same name arrived at Japanese theatres back in late 2016, toured film festivals the subsequent year and took a rest period before getting a localized release. The extras in the region one issue are the same as the Japanese, meaning music videos and trailers (no directors commentary was made). I would love to hear about the challenges of adapting the longer printed material to film, and that can still be offered if a special edition release is being considered for later.

Life was tough for young Shōya Ishida. As he looks ready to commit suicide, other forces are at work to show life is not completely hopeless. He made mistakes. He realizes how they have affected the lives of others and himself. He seeks amends. Back in elementary school, he had a cadre of pals–Naoka Ueno, Miki Kawai, and Kazuki Shimada–but he never fully understood what friendship entailed. When his class gets a new student, Shōko Nishimiya, her disability made her a target for jokes, and he was amongst those who bullied her. They made her life difficult because she is deaf.

When he pointed fingers to everyone else involved, they made him a scapegoat and it affected who they became as individuals. They parted ways and did not realize how these skeletons in the closet would rattle them later in life.

While Shōya tries to make amends, Shōko’s younger sister Yuzuru does her best to protect the family honour. Eventually, she sees some gallantry in this knight in not so shining armour. The mother throughout the film is not so convinced.

Ishida remains a pariah. Life is no better later in life because everyone in middle school remembers what he’s done. The X’s he sees drawn across everyone’s face is a manifestation of how he’s unable to look at others. Literally, he cannot look at anyone in their eye. Although he earns points with another social reject by defending him, the rest of the student body dismisses them as both outcasts.

As young kids, some of us have done things in school life we are not proud of. As this film is all from Shōya’s perspective, I felt sympathetic to his plight. He comes off as selfish at first, but we soon learn there’s a kind soul in all that sadness. When the scholastic community is not forgiving, it’s tough to mend fences. Living with stigma is tough. Unlike Shōko, he can’t ask to move away or change school. Running away from the problem is also never an answer.

This work is one of the better films which examines teen life. It also delivers more than one message. Bullying in school is a universal problem. To see what happens after or follow the life of the tormentors as they feel remorse is rarely explored.

To understand what defines the bond between these five individuals requires understanding the psychology of each. The motley crew in Ōima’s manga gets greater study in the seven-volume series and the 130-minute film is just as impressive. Director Naoko Yamada is terrific at tightening the character interactions so all the relationships are clearly understood.

The philosophy this film waxes does not offer definitive answers.  I enjoyed the moment where Shōya asked what defines fellowship. Sociologists can offer a technical answer, and Tomohiro (the pal Shōya befriends) gives a point of view that I can get. The bonds forged through acts of compassion speaks more than any other. Props go to screenwriter Reiko Yoshida (The Cat Returns) for offering this explanation. To see Shōya and Shōko become close, despite a terrible start, seems odd. It’s not impossible, just very improbable.

It’s tough to say if time heals all wounds. Some trauma can lead issues such as depression, social anxiety or suicide—as this tale extols. In how this anime succeeds is in showing how everyone eventually forgives. This film shows how it needs to come from the heart. Without some kind of happiness, this movie cannot wrap up like the musical Grease. After graduating, what’s next? Do they remain together as friends or part ways? No definitive answer is given, but we can assume life is better for everyone this gang since they have reconciled.

4 Stars out of 5

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