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A Silent Voice (2016) Re:View: Another Perspective

Editor's Note: Re:View is an occasional series where one of AFA's writers offers an alternative perspective on a title that has previously been reviewed on the site. They are not intended to replace the original- just represent an alternative opinion. This first instalment offers another view on this review.

Japanese teen Shoya is tormented by memories from his past. In primary school, he badly bullied a deaf girl who joined his class- so much so that she ended up transferring to another school. Now in High School and shunned for his actions, he is racked by guilt and self-loathing. In an attempt to try and make amends in some way, he decides to try and track down Shoko, the girl he was so cruel to all those years ago.

Naoko Yamada's feature A Silent Voice is based on the manga by Yoshitoki Oima. It starts from a pretty bold place, in that the main character (and therefore the point of audience identification) is a school bully. And not just any bully- the fact that his target is so vulnerable makes it seem all the more cruel. In these early scenes, as with elsewhere, the film pulls no punches. The depiction of the bullying is unflinching and often difficult to watch. In contrast, Shoko is depicted as such a sweet and pure-hearted character it's almost as if Shoya is kicking a puppy. Honestly, Shoya's classmates aren't much better, either joining in or at least turning a blind eye.

It's easy to see why some audience members will find this is to be too much of a hurdle to get over. However, the idea that protagonists have to be perfect is nonsense and would lead to nothing but safe storytelling.

The older Shoya is full of regret and guilt for his past, plunging him into a deep depression. Over time as he manages to start to form friendships again, first with a fellow outcast, then with Shoko and other classmates, he begins to find some sort of redemption. However, the film doesn't show this to be an easy fix. It takes time, and it's presented in a believable way. Life is sometimes messy, and relationships too, and A Silent Voice does not shy away from this. And it's not just the kids who are shown to be flawed. Adult characters such as teachers and parents are also depicted warts-and-all. This is definitely not your average idealised anime depiction of High School life. It's got a brutal honesty about the hardships of life you don't often see in cinema.

Also something that this film has that is rarely seen is a disabled main character. Although at times the way Shoko is treated by her peers (and occasionally by adults) is shocking, the disability itself is depicted with great sensitivity.  The film shows extremely detailed (and presumably accurate) depiction of Japanese sign language. The voice actor for Shoko, Saori Hayami does an impressive job (or at least it seems so to English ears). The depiction of depression is also brought to life with a real authenticity.

It's fitting that the story does not get all tied up in a neat little bow at the end- because life isn't like that. It's also a relief that the film does not need to go into overtly romantic territory. While there is a hint of there, certainly, it would have seem forced and easy to go for a big romantic Hollywood-style ending.

From a technical point of view, the film is simply stunning. Kyoto Animation is known for extremely beautiful animation, and with a movie's larger budget to play around with, you can be sure it's going to be a looker. Yamada's eye for tiny details is one that's rarely matched in animation, in Japan or elsewhere. There's subtle touches depicted that most animation studios would consider unnecessary, but they add even more believably to the characters.  The director also creates shots that are extremely cinematic, playing with things such as focus that are rarely present in 2D animation. There's also creative "camerawork" leading to the film featuring some angles or shots you won't have seen before (including a sequence "shot" on an iPad), and some of the most stunning lighting effects ever shown in animation.

The character designs are cute but fairly conventional. This contrasts with the distinctly "un-anime" way the characters act, and the non rose-tinted view of life. It looks like a classic anime nostalgic look at the prefect teenage summer, but that is definitely not what this film is.

If you can get over the deeply flawed protagonist and can deal with the fairly languid pace, then A Silent Voice is a highly rewarding experience. The stunning animation and rich and mature storytelling will invite repeat viewing, and ensure this is a film you won't forget in a hurry. With this film, Yamada undoubtedly stakes out a claim to be one of the most exciting voices to be working in animation today.

A SILENT VOICE is available to rent digitally in the UK, and will be released in US Cinemas this October.