In this age of film, there are few movies that can pull so hard at the strings of the heart; To see something so eye opening, something that makes you reflect on yourself, and makes you think about the way that you act and speak towards others. Not many films can have that effect on people, so you would shudder to even imagine that an animated film from Japan could do just that. Koe no Katachi, or A Silent Voice, is a film straight from the heart of Kyoto. Based on the popular Japanese light novel/manga series and produced by animation powerhouse Kyoto Animation, Koe no Katachi is a masterpiece of a film that everyone should see at least once in their lifetime. Whether you’re a fan of the anime world or if you’re just a fan of film, the film is well worth the watch.
For years I have been a fan of Kyoto Animation; They have produced some of my favorite anime such as Inuyasha, Beyond the Boundary, K-On!, Hyouka, Myriad Phantom Colors, etc. Kyoto never fails to put their heart and souls into the adaptations of beloved Japanese light novel and manga adaptations. A Silent Voice brings us the story of Shoya Ishida, a young school boy whose world is completely changed when a girl named Shoko Nishimiya, who is deaf, enrolls in his elementary school class. You immediately become attached to Shoko because in her first scene being introduced to the class, she has to use a notebook to communicate with the other kids and the expression on her face is so innocent and optimistic. She just wants to make friends and try the best that she can to be normal, but that doesn’t happen. She begins to get bullied by Shoya and his friends.
The scenes really resonated with me. I found myself in tears as I watched this little girl, who is doing her best to not let her ailment define her, get bullied and abused just because she’s a little different. I was Shoko growing up. I know how hard it can be to find a place where you belong, trying to fit in even though you’re different from your peers. Wanting so badly to just be like the other kids, when you’re not. Being isolated because of that can be cold and lonely. There was a specific scene where Shoko is sitting at her desk and she is asked to read from the book by their teacher. Now, if you’re unfamiliar with how speaking works when you’re hard of hearing, it’s a lot harder and sounds different from regular speech. Her words were hard to comprehend at times and her voice is different from that of a regular child’s. But still, she smiles and reads as best she can on her own. Ishida, being the bully that he has been, mocks her when it is his turn to read.
Having the main characters and cast as kids in the beginning of the film made you connect with them easily; wanting nothing but happiness and success for Shoko as she grows up was something that Kyoto pulled off perfectly. After an incident that ends in blood, Shoko transfers schools, and Ishida is branded a bully by his classmates and is alienated by them, even though they all did the bullying as well. That label follows Ishida into high school, and that isolation and loneliness leads him into depression and him attempting to kill himself. But before he can do it, Shoko comes into his mind’s eye and he can’t go through with it.
The entire second half of the film is Ishida and Shoko reuniting and getting to know each other better. Even chance meetings with old classmates that abused Shoko, even in their high school age, made me upset and I found myself yelling at the screen in defense of Shoko. She just continues to give that beautiful smile and simply say “I’m sorry”, even though it wasn’t her fault. Towards the end of the film, there was fireworks festival;. Ishida attends it with Shoko and her family. You can tell something is off with Shoko, given how little she is communicating with her family and with Ishida. Even so, she says goodbye to her friend and goes home alone. Soon after, Ishida goes back to the Nishimiya residence for her little sister’s camera, and this is probably the most powerful scene in the film.
Shoko is on the railing of the balcony, ready to jump and end her life. Ishida rushes to her as quickly as he can and catches her hand just in time. He tells her that she shouldn’t end her life, and basically confesses his feelings for her without really doing so. This changes Shoko’s mind about dying and she fights for life. But in the action of pulling her up, Ishida falls over the balcony and into the water at the bottom of the complex and falls into a coma.
Such powerful scenes are what make films hard to turn away from, hard to forget even days after watching. Koe no Katachi left an imprint on my mind and my heart forever, simply because I related to Shoko so deeply. I cried when she cried, I felt her pain and her need to find strength. I understood how she was simply was trying her best to just simply live, without feeling like an inconvenience to everyone around her. This film touched on the weight of physical ailments and mental health so perfectly. I can see this film opening so many eyes and hearts after just one watch.
So after two watches, I can confidently say that this film is a must watch for anyone, regardless of age, gender or personal film preference. So many people in the world need to exposed to things like this. To gain compassion, knowledge, and understanding of such issues as these. So please, give this film a watch. Sit down with your family and friends. I promise that you won’t regret it.
Koe no Katachi is available on Blu-Ray & DVD at various Japanese retailers and available for streaming on various anime websites as well!