(First impressions) A Silent Voice [Koe no Katachi]

a-silent-voice

A Silent Voice is my film of the year.

This is not a claim I make lightly. I saw your name. just two days prior to this masterpiece, and I’ll be seeing Godzilla Resurgence this coming week. I’m sure that I’ll also be catching some of next year’s Oscar favourites come Christmas. But even as my mind returns, time and time again, to the story that Yamada Naoko and her team at Kyoto Animation have brought to the screen, my conviction only grows. I simply cannot conceive of anything else giving me anything close to that experience at the theatre.

I’m sure it’s obvious by now, but A Silent Voice was indeed the second film that I was dead set on seeing on my recent trip to Japan. What may not be so obvious, however, was that it was, without a doubt, the highlight of that trip. In fact, a couple of hours after walking out of the cinema with tears in my eyes, I was pretty eager to see it again. And I would have…if only I hadn’t arranged to meet friends on my last two days in Japan—by the time I had confirmed arrangements, only single seats were left in all the cinemas nearby! Even now, I’m super envious of all the people who got to see it the Scotland Loves Anime Festival this past weekend!

start

First off, let me note that I went into this film completely blind. I resisted reading the manga even though tweets and blog posts about the trailers and making-of specials kept showing up on my radar. As such, I had little idea of what to expect besides Kyoto Animation’s usual high standards. And I have to say that I’m incredibly glad for that. Slight spoilers follow—but honestly, I strongly and earnestly recommend that you don’t keep reading until you have seen the film for yourself.

** WARNING ** SPOILERS AHEAD **

People say that first impressions are important, and Yamada and co. definitely pull this off with A Silent Voice. Just like the manga, the film begins with in media res, dumping us right into the middle of the story.1 However, the opening scene in the latter is, in a word, surreal. At first I was confused…a glimpse of a torn calendar, a boy tidying his room. It was only when he closed his bank account and put the money he’d withdrawn on his mother’s pillow that it dawned on me what he was doing, and my heart leapt up and lodged in my throat as he approached the bridge and jumped onto the railing…

bridge

I can’t tell you how relieved I was when he stepped back from that brink. When he went home and got an earful as well as an outpouring of tears from his mother. The strange mixture of comedy and gravity in that scene only added to how surreal it felt. And then, the film took us both forward and back—back to the history of bullying that had brought Shōya to this point, and forward to the chance encounter that might allow him to rejoin a society that he has abandoned.

childhood_scenes_2 childhood_scenes_1

It was around this point that I started noticing other little things that I found disconcerting. Why did we have crosses on people’s faces? And why did we have so many shots showing feet and legs? Why did the sounds in the background suddenly swell at this or that point? It was only after I left the cinema, thinking hard about the story that the creators of this film had chosen to focus on, that it crystallised for me. The fact that each and every one of these elements was part of the storytelling. I could only marvel at how effectively Yamada and co. had woven these elements together, such that viewers might never realise how they had been guided through the narrative. I can’t wait for the chance to see it all again again, so that I can more consciously consider the imagery and sounds in each and every shot that they put together.

But until then, I think I should stop here. There is one more scene that I’ve written quite a few notes on, as I reflected on the impact it had especially because of the opening sequences depicting Shōya planning his own suicide. But suffice it to say that the hopes and fears of our other main character, Shōko, were also crystal clear by the time we parted ways.

shoko-1 moving-forward-2
And in case anyone’s wondering, all of these ‘screenshots’ come from the pamphlet. -karice

To finish off, I’ll just throw this out there: forgot “film of the year,” my anime of the year slot is quite possibly taken now. Even with Yuri!!! on ICE and Sound! Euphonium 2 asserting their amazing presence over the last few weeks, challenging Rakugo Shinjū as my favourite anime TV series of the year, I would be very surprised to see anything top A Silent Voice. It is, simply put, quite something to behold, and I am extremely grateful I had the chance to do so at the theatre.


  1. I snuck a look the manga, which is available on Crunchyroll, when I got back home. 

About karice
MAG fan, amateur translator and political scientist in training. I also love musicals, photography, travel and believe it or not, the game of cricket. よろしく!

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