In these heightened times, the more intensely human stories of evolution tend to be simplified at the compromise of the story. When it comes to disability and bullying, only a certain facet or side of the nature of such individuals is revealed. Ultimately, when you think about it, it is about interpretation and understanding, which in itself is the perfect canvas for filmmakers and cinema as a whole.
A brand-new Japanese animated film, A Silent Voice, adapted from a manga strip by Yoshitoki Oima, provides a honest analysis of both examples of human nature. In 2016, the manga was ranked as one of the year’s Top Ten Graphic Novels by the Young Adult Library Services Association. The key creatives here are both female - director Naoko Yamada and scriptwriter Reiko Yoshida and Kyoto Animation look like they have taken up the reins of Studio Ghibli on the evidence here.
The story tells of a shy girl called Shoko, who can only communicate through a notebook to her new classmates at a new school. She is also deaf and has trouble speaking. This in turn sets her out to be an easy target for a boy called Shoko, who wastes no time taking advantage of her along with other pupils in the class, stealing her hearing aid and berating her for using sign language and such-like. However, his actions only lay the foundation for personal trauma and troubles that emerge five years on when he encounters Shoko in a different environment and context….
A Silent Voice is a remarkable piece of animation, which fans of Ghibli will reach out to. The themes of bullying and disability are sensitively handled and honestly exposed. Shoko is a more rounded bully than a Biff Tannen in Back To The Future and the film has as much to say about teenage angst and development as any number of Hollywood youth offerings like Mean Girls and The Breakfast Club.
Like some of the recent Disney and Pixar offerings, you forget that you are actually watching an animated film at times, a testament to the strength of the storytelling and imagery on show. There is a potent mix of the subtle and spectacular here, as well as a celebration of the Japanese culture and environment. Both lead and supporting characters are fleshed out with care and courtesy and there is a liberal sprinkle of good-natured humour that affectionately encapsulates the joys and deliberations of growing up, as well as reminding yourself of the consequences of your actions in any given age.
A Silent Voice is a profoundly moving and engrossing coming-of-age fable that should be seen by everyone as an example of the challenges and concerns that bullying and disability yield in the world.
A SILENT VOICE / CERT: 12 / DIRECTOR: NAOKO YAMADA / SCREENPLAY: REIKO YOSHIDA / STARRING: MIYU IRINO, SAORI HAYAMI, AOI YŪKI, KENSHŌ ONO / RELEASE DATE: 15TH MARCH