A Silent Voice

A Silent Voice ★★★★½

A Silent Voice is what a slice of life film should be. I'm aware Your Name. overshadowed it, and many compare the two. But I find A Silent Voice much better crafted and more fitting of the genre. Unlike Your Name., A Silent Voice relies more on its subtle character work to reveal its themes, instead of fantastical occurrences or a grand plot.

The movie succeeds where many others fail, although it still serves as a hindrance. The film shows the characters' thoughts and feelings through their interactions, dialogue and subtle visual cues. Instead of explaining everything to the viewer, sometimes it hints at things. Other times they're shown through the stunning animation. But it still leaves some things ambiguous.

A Silent Voice vs Your Name
Your Name. has a bombastic and memorable score while A Silent Voice offers a more experimental, almost invisible one. Its characters drive the plot forward, instead of the other way around. Your Name. has magical occurrences propel its "save the world" plot and barely develops its characters. In contrast, A Silent Voice creates its story through its characters' interactions and furthers the plot through their decisions.

The Premise
The film begins with a flashback, showing a boy trying to understand the new deaf girl, Shoko. At first, he and his classmates are supportive. They let her join their school choir but miss out in competitions. Another student takes notes for her, but can't keep up with her own. Eventually, they grow bitter. They ostracise, bully, and talk about her behind her back. But Shoya takes it too far. He bullies Shoko because he doesn't understand her. She tries to befriend him, but he never gives her a chance. She may be deaf, but he's the one who doesn't listen. When his teacher calls him out, he tries to take his friends down with him. But his actions turn them against him. They reject and ostracise him—as he did to Shoko.

He isn't mean for no reason; he doesn't understand her. Naoka Ueno only resents Shoko because of her jealousy and blames Shoko for ruining Shoya's relationships. Miki Kawai shifts all blame on Shoya because she can't see herself capable of doing terrible things. In fact, despite them taking part in the bullying, everyone in his class shifts the blame on Shoya even though they're all just as cruel.

The English Dub
This movie is my first encounter with an English dub, and it's the only time I'll recommend it. The filmmakers cast each character perfectly, whether it be their younger or older selves. Even a real deaf girl voices Shoko, which brings an authenticity that shines through. Is it only me, or does the English voice actress of Naoka Ueno give me Azula vibes?

The Score
The score is almost invisible. But now and then, you notice the piano melodies. And when it takes over in wordless scenes, it becomes powerful. It's manipulative. There are moments where the most mundane things are happening, but the score tells you what you're supposed to be thinking and feeling.

The Animation
But the most noteworthy aspect, other than the screenplay, is the gorgeous animation. The coloured lighting is the most impressive, as it helps convey each scene's emotion. The character designs are unique; Yuzuru and Tomohiro are my favourites. And the Xs drawn over people's faces shows Shoya's social anxiety clearly. Many shots show everything but a character's face, or only their legs because Shoya isn't looking them in the eye. Kyoto Animation did a fantastic job, and it saddens me they were the anime studio I heard of, back in 2019, who lost 34 of their artists' lives because of arson. I'm glad they're back up on their feet again, but it still saddens me someone would do such a thing.

The Characters
But my favourite element is the film's believable characters. After the trauma of elementary school, Shoya's mental health has declined. We start with him repaying his debts. But before he ends it all, he returns Shoko's notebook—her attempts connect—and shows her he learned sign language. At this moment, he finds a reason to live; to seek redemption. But why? At first, he does it as a formality. Later, childhood friend, Naoka, tells him he does it out of guilt. And Yuzuru, Shoko's sister, thinks he's doing it because of some white knight mentality. But Shoya realises he's doing it to reconnect with society and make Shoko like herself again.

Back in elementary school, Shoko blames herself for everyone else's misfortune. She thinks she's a burden on others and says she loves them but hates herself. So while Shoya closes himself off from the world, Shoko closes herself in.

When we meet Yuzuru, we see she's always looking out for her older sister. She starts as the overprotective younger sibling. But after she realises Shoya's changed, she gives him a chance. Tomohiro is the first person Shoya opens up to and explains that friendship lies somewhere beyond logic and words. He shows him what it means to have a best friend and always has his back. He doesn't have to face his fears alone. And Naoka acts as Shoya's character foil. Unlike Shoya, she remains the same, still resenting and harassing Shoko. She does it out of jealousy because she too has her eyes on Shoya and blames Shoko for everything terrible that has happened to him. No-one is a good or a bad person, but we're all capable of doing terrible things.

The film could've made all these characters one-dimensional. But screenwriter Reiko Yoshida instead opts to give them depth and explain why they are the person they are now. She does this not only to develop Shoya but to accentuate the film's themes. The miscommunication of its characters happens because of their flaws, anxieties and faults. It's about what it means to have friends because, for Shoya, he isn't sure if anyone is his friend. For others, it's their self-loathing and how to overcome it. But for them all, the film shows what it takes to reach forgiveness and change.

A Silent Voice is a careful character study with a plot dictated by its characters rather than the reverse. It's so honest in its depiction of these characters' lives as it feels real. If you like Your Name., I recommend this movie. Its story is better crafted, but the former is still my favourite. Your Name. focuses on the romance and fantasy of love. In contrast, A Silent Voice dives deep into the bully, bullied, and the disabled's psyche. Two of which who rarely receive representation in animated media such as this one. Films rarely depict them so earnestly that someone like me, who's never met a deaf person, can empathise with a fictional one.

Thanks for watching it with me, Cookie God.

SCORE: 9/10

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