Anime can be beautiful. I’m not talking just about the stunning artwork that can be found in certain forms of anime but actual omnipresent beauty, and beauty isn’t something you find much in film of late. Indeed movies with beauty, with true beauty, with moments that capture our breath and leave us gasping, wide eyed and innocent at the screen are quite few and far between. Naoko Yamada’s ‘Koe no Katachi’ does this with a subtle grace that transcends its medium and becomes something truly memorable.
Shoya Ishida is in the sixth grade when he first meets Shoko Nishimiya, a young girl with a severe hearing disability who has just transferred into the grade school. From the outset Ishida begins to bully her and the girl is very quickly marginalized from the rest of her class. As much as Nishimiya is sweet and innocent, trying again and again to reach out to her fellow classmates for friendship and understanding, for connection, she is met only by cruelty. The opening of the film which shows the horrific bullying Nishimiya endures of a daily basis is raw and brutal. Ishida, as are his classmates, horrid, ugly and unlikable in the extreme as the film begins and things only get worse for the girl. One day Ishida pushes things to far when after he violently rips out her hearing aids, Nishimiya is quickly taken out of school. Everyone quickly points their fingers at Ishida as the person to blame. The boy is ostracized by his classmates, his friends turn swiftly on him and he is left to spend the rest of his days at school as an outsider and pariah. He learns to look down, to avoid contact and interaction and he learns to be alone.
As time goes by Ishida is haunted the memory of Nishimiya and after an unsuccessful suicide attempt he decides to seek her out. Ishida turns from someone who is so very easy to loathe into a person we feel for, a person we pity, a person we truly want to find happniess. As the story moves along and he is forced, rather bewildered, into making human connections with Nishimiyas little sister Yuzuru and a new best friend Tomohiro Nagatsuka, another outcast at school who instantly becomes devoted to him, Ishida starts to see the world again through the deafness of his lonliness. A Silent Voice is a story about redemption. It’s a story about the broken and the incomplete. It is about finding a peace with ourselves and those we choose to let into our lives and that while we cannot change the crimes of our past we can move on from them. The artwork is breathtaking, the use of space and movement are perfect and the sound direction and soundtrack are sublime. It is a movie to be experienced without expectation.
It is a love story, a story about us and who we seek to be.