A bittersweet tale with heart-wrenching moments that left me clenching my chair, smiling and teary - not specifically in that order.
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7 Apr 2017 - 12:25 PM  UPDATED 7 Apr 2017 - 12:27 PM

**Disclaimer: Mild spoilers ahead.**

Naoko Yamada’s A Silent Voice is an adaption of Yoshitoki Ōima’s manga, animated by Kyoto Animation. The film explores the original series themes of school bullying, loss, regret, consequences and conflict, brilliantly.

The film’s leads Shoya Ishida and Shoko Nishimiya are very likeable. Within the first ten minutes, Ishida’s story is established: as a pre-teen, he and his friends bullied their deaf classmate, Nishimiya. After she transferred schools, his friends turned on him, treating him as the outcast, replacing Nishimiya. What follows is his story of redemption, trying to reconcile with Nishimiya by reconnecting her with the classmates she never had the chance to befriend.

Watching the development of their relationship is earnestly relatable. Nishimiya is innocently endearing and the film's standout character. Saori Hayami’s performance as Nishiniya is fantastically believable, as she mouths sentences with an unclear tone-deaf voice that helps bring her youthful positive outlook to the big screen. Fans will quickly recognise veteran voices, Aoi Yuki (Yuzuru) and Miyu Irino (Ishida), but animation newcomers Yuki Kaneko (Ueno) and Yui Ishikawa (Sahara) are standouts on their own accord.

A Silent Voice is told through Ishida’s perspective with an incredibly animated and dynamic supporting cast. Each of the children have a clear narrative arc linked to their past. Sahara struggles to overcome her fear of confrontation after failing to help Nishimiya, while a quest for self-discovery and family is demonstrated by Nishimiya’s younger sister, Yuzuru. You most likely see yourself in at least one of these characters.

There’s some great moments between Ishida’s and Nishimiya’s families but ultimately this is a teen-led drama. The film deals with some very mature subtexts in comedic and dramatic ways. Yamada delivers some excellent heart-wrenching moments that left me clenching my chair, smiling and teary - not specifically in that order. Even then, I was disappointed to see some characters ignored in the second half, and Ueno’s redemption fall flat.

The film is also a clear example of Kyoto Animation. Detailed facial expressions, beautifully smooth animation and use of colour had me mesmerised. The animation was consistently clear and clean. Stickers blanking characters faces - from Ishida’s mind - are interestingly drawn in a different style to the rest of the film and blur character's facial features. I found this an engagingly sophisticated use of style that tied the animation back to the narrative, especially when contrasting the beginning of the second act and final scene. That said, some moments, such as Sahara playfully checking Nishimiya’s breast size, and persistent male-gazing camera angles, felt out of character given the source material.

A Silent Voice is an understandably long film. Yamada treats each character with respect. It’s a refreshingly self-aware and genuine story, serving as a reflection of our own experiences of school bullying. The pacing may feel like a slow burn but the emotional payoff is worth it.

A Silent Voice is currently screening in select cinemas.

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