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A Silent Voice

I like to talk about movies that hit my heart. Ever since I started watching anime movies, it was in my mind to talk about some of the movies which I have thoroughly enjoyed. Some of them have even changed my percepective on a lot of things. Other than the amazing animations, some which resembles reality quite a lot, what hit me the most are the stories. Anime movies deal with a wide range of topics, some which are still not that much talked in the west, even if they generally call themselves progressive.

And so the first movie that I have selected to talk about is 'A Silent Voice'.


boy looking up and girl looking at the boy

A Silent Voice is a Japanese animated film that was released in 2017. It was directed by Naoko Yamada and written by Reiko Yoshida. While the plot of the film centres on a teen Shoya Ishida attempting to make amends with a deaf girl, Shouko Nishimiya, whom he bullied in sixth grade, the true story centres on his relationship with those around him. The story of Shoya's life is one of bullying, mental illness, friendship, and redemption.

Our teaser begins with Shoya, our protagonist...sort of. We see a sequence of teenager Shoya getting his affairs in order before attempting suicide, including ripping out the rest of his calendar, signalling that it's time to quit his part-time job, and withdrawing his entire bank account and leaving it for his mother. Shoya walks to a bridge and performs the aforementioned actions, which is the central part of this sequence. He leans over the railing, and the next thing we know, he's standing on top of it, about to fall off before he's stopped by a nearby firework. He crosses another day off his calendar marked "Final Day" once more.

The film begins with a montage of a preadolescent Shoya bonding with his friends, playing video games, fooling around in class, attracting the attention of girls, and generally acting like...kids. They're merely attempting to have as much fun as possible. This montage concludes with Shoya taking a leisurely stroll down the hall, surrounded by students who are staring at him. I'm not going to summarise every scene in the movie, but this one is crucial in terms of setting up Shoya's decline. This is a true gem, a breathtakingly beautiful slice of life anime with a sincerity and kindness that is often lacking in today's mainstream cinema.


Shoya's depression, self-loathing, and guilt are all factors that may contribute to his decision, even if his attempt is ultimately unsuccessful. However, we are not given an explicit end-all-and-be-all account. Shoya's actions aren't attributed to the influence of any other agent. For years, we've known he's been isolated and lonely. We do know, however, that such isolation was partially self-imposed. Shoya may have been severely bullied in middle school, but his isolation in high school appears to be self-imposed. At one point he says, "You probably didn't know this, but I don't really fit in at school. It's cause I have trouble looking people in the eye, so it's easier for me to just stare at the floor all the time."

In A Silent Voice, suicide is a recurring theme. The film's central motifs make it impossible to forget. As they fall off things, Shoya and Shouko constantly miss each other's hands. Jumping into rivers on several occasions. Shoya's empty room included. One of the things I liked best about this story was how Shoya chose to be punished rather than run away from or excuse his past actions. It appears to be a redemption story at first glance. Shoya, on the other hand, is looking for repentance rather than redemption.

Shoya is regretful of his past and what he has done to Shouko, which is a significant difference between him in 6th grade and as a teenager. We no longer see a cruel, hurtful young boy who delights in inflicting pain on others; instead, we see a repentant man who recognises the gravity of his actions. He is constantly tested by the thought of sincerity as he tries to make things right. Meaning, he is repeatedly asked if his decision to be Shouko's friend is motivated by self-interest; however, Shoya assures that his intentions are solely to assist Shouko after making her life a misery.

While I won't go into too much detail here, A Silent Voice focuses on Shouko's family and their reactions to her suicide attempts. Because of her suicidal ideation, a central part of the makeup of their apartment and of their family life is eventually revealed to be the case. She is not condemned for doing so, even if she is labelled "stupid" for it. One of A Silent Voice's best qualities as a film is how sympathetic it is to its characters. Even for actions it acknowledges are wrong, there is little blame. Also, it's rare to come across a film that has a sweet, nuanced, and intelligent take on deafness and society's ableism of the deaf community.

We cannot overlook two side characters who are important for the plot. They are Tomohiro Nagatsuka, who considers Shoya as his best friend, and Shouko's younger sister, Yuzuru. Throughout the film we could see Tomohiro is the only one who truly stays with Shoya, even after they breifly break apart in the film. Tomohiro, kind of, is the last friendship Shoya had before he thought of redemption and he mentions that Shoya is the only one that accepted him while they were young. Yuzuru goes from a rude, overprotective young girl (who gets mistaken as a boy for most of the time due to her appearence), to a sweet and understanding girl. As a younger sister, she hopes the best for Shouko and constantly keeps a watch on her for her safety. One could see the hardwork she goes for her older sister, just so that she doesn't attempt suicide.

It's a good thing that these fashions depict suicide and the complex effects it has on those around it. The majority of guidelines stress the importance of not sensationalising or normalising suicide in any way. Suicide stigma can prevent people with suicidal thoughts from receiving the help they require. It also unfairly burdens those who have been affected by suicide, whether as a result of their own attempts or those who attempted or completed suicide around them. Suicide's normalisation can also contribute to the issue's desensitisation. Suicide should be considered as 'heavy' as it is. It's not something we expect people to do, and it's certainly not something we want them to take lightly.

A Silent Voice also has the merit of being a film about two suicidal teenagers that does not kill either of them. Their suicide attempts yield no results and solve no problems. Nonetheless, they are given the opportunity to be happy and to live. These are important points to emphasise in a film about teenagers struggling in this way, in my opinion. On a more personal level, I appreciate a portrayal of suicide that neither guilt trips nor normalises my own relationship with it. A Silent Voice also makes an effort to keep its surroundings beautiful. It was difficult to keep the cast's problems framed as genuine while they lived in a beautiful world, but such beauty inspires hope. Genuine hope in suicide-related media is a blessing.


 


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