Film Review: A Silent Voice

Affecting, often strangely beautiful anime treatement of bullying is both fresh and surprising.
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Bullying is the topic here, but this story from rising anime auteur Naoko Yamada is refreshingly told from the points of view of both victim and perpetrator. Based on the acclaimed manga by Yoshitoki Oima, A Silent Voice celebrates girl power both on and off the screer; both the director and screenwriter Reiko Yoshida are women.

In the town of Ogaki, Gifu Prefecture, Saori Hayami (voiced by Shoko Nishimiya) is the new girl at her elementary school, a dilemma made worse by the fact that she is deaf. This precipitates ruthless bullying, especially from Miyu Irino (Shoya Ishida), who even causes her to bleed when he cruelly rips her hearing aid from her. Although the most aggressive because he’s unable to deal with his affection for her, he’s not alone, for there are various mean girls and enabling sheep types who contribute to Saori’s daily torment.

High school brings no relief, for although Saori and Miyu attend different campuses and he wants to make amends with her, his reuniting her with former classmates only makes things worse. With a dysfunctional family background, Miyu becomes an alienated loner, while Saori continues to let her disability darkly define her.

The presence of so many gifted, creative women here is salutary. As narrated by Miyu, what could have been another dreary after-school report about bullying has a refreshing delicacy as well as a necessary visceral punch. If you’ve ever experienced the excruciating ordeal of being harassed in your extreme youth, there is much here to relate to on a very deep level. The unpredictable and ugly brutality which surrounds its protagonists is always leavened by touches of almost magical realism—beautiful, natural images of flowers or drops of rain (or tears)—which are like the fragile threads of joy which keep them keeping on (despite certain suicidal tendencies). There are also effective bits of stylization, like the blue X’s which, in Miyu’s gloomy mind’s eyes, cover the faces of all the people he encounters, as he tries to make yet one more botched attempt to connect with this sad, strange girl he can’t seem to get out of his system.

To enjoy this film, which admittedly could be tightened up length-wise, one must succumb to the age-old Japanese animation convention of unnaturally large and very Western Bambi eyes on all the important young characters. Peepers of a more recognizably and not so capacious size only really appear on the elderly and very little children. I’ve always wondered how this visual self-colonization which makes the characters awfully pretty but somewhat inexpressive came to be in this culture, but if you can accept it, A Silent Voice will prove a rewarding, even somewhat haunting film experience.

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