Film Review: A Silent Voice

Shoya Ishida is a typical delinquent elementary school boy with a large group of friends and not a care in the world, that is until a new student– Shoko Nishimiya, who happens to be deaf – joins his class. Despite her shy and friendly nature, her presence stirs Shoya’s small world and he begins to bully her, with encouragement from his friends. When the bullying reaches its peak, and he is punished severely for it, his friends disown him and he becomes an outcast himself. Several years later, now in High School, Shoya crosses paths with Nishimiya once again and he slowly begins to reconnect with her, as well as make amends for his past actions.

The role of ‘the school bully’ is normally reserved for antagonists or side characters where they, for the most part, remain one-dimensional (mean for the sake of being mean). If they do have an arc, it’s almost always them getting called out on their behaviour usually by the protagonists, then they quickly reform from their bullying ways and the world is set to rights. However, A Silent Voice makes a bold move in making the bully the protagonist, and there’s no doubt that he is a bully; it starts off with childish lashing out at something (or in this case, someone) that he does not understand but escalates into outright horrible behaviour that makes it incredibly hard to watch. But then his world comes crashing down; he gets told off by the teachers, his friends and the rest of the school completely turn on him AND his mother has to pay a huge fine for Nishimiya’s damaged hearing aids. In a lesser movie, or a movie not set around Shoya, that would be the end of his arc, the audience would assume that he has learned his lesson and that the balance is now restored. But A Silent Voice dares to explore his character further: what happens after he’s punished for his actions? What becomes of his home life and mental state? The answer is that over the years of being exiled and living with the crushing guilt of his actions, he has become incredibly depressed, suffering from anxiety, and is suicidal. It would be easy to brush off Shoya’s plight and emotional state as ‘karma’: he deserved what he got. But A Silent Voice does not set out to do that, or attempt to take the easy route; it instead lays the groundwork and then sets off on a journey for an incredibly involving and significant film.

A Silent Voice talks about a lot of issues that many films either gloss over, sensationalise or wouldn’t touch with a 10-foot pole. This list includes but is not limited to depression, anxiety, loneliness, suicide, self-hatred and learning to forgive yourself. A person suffering from any of these things in media such as television would typically have it communicated to audience via actively saying what they feel or suffer from, looking miserable all the time, or having a cut-away of them taking pills (shorthand for medicating whatever they’re suffering from). A Silent Voice doesn’t do any of this, but takes a more realistic and natural approach; Shoya’s depression and self-deprecation is not limited to being expressed via dialogue but also in his body language and animation techniques. Whether he’s speaking or not, we see him constantly having his head down, struggling to make eye contact with other students, being apprehensive of taking actions if it involves other people and in one scene he even slaps himself as self-punishment for saying something embarrassing. Over the course of the film we discover that it’s not just Shoya who has problems but also other members of the student body, especially Shoko Nishimiya, whom we learn deals with her life-long struggle of deafness and the stigma that comes with it by putting on a friendly but aloof front, and in turn speaks very little about how she actually feels, which is just as damaging as the way Shoya goes about it. Then there are the other side characters who have reacted or thought differently about what happened in elementary school, whether it’s via denial or choosing to move on, and so forth. The side characters don’t get the same amount of attention as Shoya or Nishimiya but how they all interact with each other, and discuss or choose to ignore the issues hovering over them all adds layers to the important themes shown in the movie. There’s no one way to cope or live with these issues, and as the movie shows different sides of them, and uncovers what creates them – or how they remain if not treated – the results are both heart-warming and heart-breaking.

In turn, the animation allows the audience to see exclusively through Shoya’s point of view by having all the students’ faces covered up with a cross; a reflection of how he sees them all as people he cannot communicate with or reach out to. It’s over the course of the film, as he begins to work through his problems, that the crosses start to come off, but like a reflection of real life where we have setback days, the crosses are sometimes slapped back on as Shoya retreats once more into his shell. There’s also a variety of other techniques: blurry images, flares, water ripples/reflections and, right at the beginning of the movie, we see a long dark tunnel with an incoherent image at the end which comes full circle in the final scenes of the film. Although a lot of these images are eventually explained and make sense over the course of the story, when they are first introduced, they’re hastily thrown in back-to-back and therefore it feels a bit of a mess. Imagery and symbolism is important and should absolutely be used but for the first half of this movie they play out more like ‘ideas the director thought up and wanted to throw in there’ rather than strategically placed elements. Even the ‘cross over the faces’ trick, which is the strongest and most frequently used animation metaphor, only comes into play about 20 minutes into the film.

If you only looked at the trailers and did minimal research before seeing the movie, you could have easily been fooled into thinking that it’s a high school romance story with the unique selling point being that it involves a deaf girl. Whilst the ‘deaf girl’ angle is definitely interesting and a hook into the movie by itself, Shoko Nishimiya’s condition is more than just a gimmick. She expresses a lot of her personality in the way she moves, smiling at others despite what they are saying about her and in the way she tries to communicate with everyone despite her limitations. What’s also charming is that she’s not portrayed as a martyr, someone that everyone needs to love and she doesn’t have (for instance) super awesome intellect or heightened senses that have come about as a result of being deaf; she’s a normal high school girl with flaws like everyone else and a lot of emotional baggage, that in a way mirrors Shoya’s struggles but she chooses to bury it as her way of coping. The time-skip also serves as an important point in her character arc as well; her being deaf and a victim of said bullying absolutely would warrant such intricate dejected feelings, but having the bullying issues resolved by the time she enters high school doesn’t mean that the mental trauma suddenly no longer exists, or that they make up solely who she is as a person. Also, having a boyfriend or your bully coming back as a better person, wanting to make it all better doesn’t make the world suddenly a better place. Real life is more complicated than that; just like having Shoya being punished for his actions doesn’t make it OK that he grows up into a suicidal wreck of a boy, or Nishimiya choosing to forgive and befriend him makes her accountable for any emotional turmoil that happens to her later on in the movie. Nothing is black and white, there are all shades of grey, especially when it comes to the issues this movie chooses to talk about.

The pacing of the film is an odd one, especially since it plays out like a romance/coming-of-age story for the majority of its run time, so when it comes to the big emotional moment between Shoya and Nishimiya you expect the film to wrap up quickly afterwards. However, it continues on for a while but not because it has to resolve multiple plot points like, say, in Your Name. It’s important to note that it’s Shoya Ishida story, it’s his emotional arc, and the problems he has don’t automatically fix themselves in a single moment. Problems such as his, as many of those who have or are suffering from depression will know, are a constant battle and sometimes there are good and bad days. So even though the final scene of the movie feels (as a movie watcher) as if it takes ages to come after the big high, it’s an important moment for the character and wraps up the core themes very nicely.

Kyoto Animation, who produced the visuals for A Silent Voice, have a ton of experience with romance-themed and especially high-school-based stories with series such as Clannad, Air and K-ON! under their belts (the K-ON! series and movie being the series that director Naoko Yamada is best known for). As mentioned earlier, they use a lot of little techniques to get Shoya’s world across to the audience but outside of that, there’s much to admire, from the bright colours and the fluid animation, to the way the school environment is drawn to look familiar, yet different. It avoids the usual pitfalls of the main cast’s desks being on the window side of the classroom, or each room in the school looking exactly the same as the previous one. It’s a well thought out and drawn environment that the story is set in with beautiful imagery for the passing seasons.

Kensuke Ushio, the score composer, doesn’t have many credits aside from Space Dandy but his minimal yet emotional score complements the tender and sensitive nature of the film’s themes. Aiko provides the ending theme ‘Koi wo Shita no wa’ which is sadly rather standard fare but musically it flows from Ushio’s work nicely. However, the movie’s opening is edited to The Who’s ‘My Generation’, which sticks out like a sore thumb against the rest of the score. Lyrically, however, it adds a whole new level of negative connotations to the song, considering that it plays over a montage of young and naive Shoyo hanging out with his friends before the events of the movie properly kick off.

A Silent Voice is an emotionally important coming-of-age tale, it tackles a lot of themes that will resonate with audiences on numerous levels with its deep, delicate examination of uncomfortable but significant feelings without falling back on familiar tropes to gain an easy ending. It’s a beautiful, thought-provoking film that shouldn’t be missed.

Title: A Silent Voice
Publisher: All the Anime/Anime Limited
Genre: Drama, Coming of Age, Romance,
Studio: Kyoto Animation
Type: Movie
Original vintage: 2016
Format: Cinema screening
Language options: Japanese audio with English subtitles
Age rating: 12 A
Running time: 129 minutes

Score: 9/10

Naoko Yamada to attend Glasgow Film Festival screening for A Silent Voice

Anime Limited had teased about a surprise inclusion to their planned screening of A Silent Voice (Koe no Katachi) for the Glasgow Film Festival and now it has been revealed!

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A Silent Voice joins The Japan Foundation Touring Film Programme 2017 line-up!

Every year The Japan Foundation offers a list of Japanese films for new audiences to explore, and not long ago their latest line-up was revealed! Here’s a look at what they have in store.

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Leeds International Film Festival Animation Day 2016 Coverage

kizumonogatari-leading-imageThis year marks my second chance to attend the anime day at the Leeds International Film Festival. This year also marked a fairly major change for the anime day, as instead of being focused on Japanese animation the section has been renamed the ‘Animation Day’ so that it could include animated works from around the world. Like previous years, the films on offer for 2016 were fairly big titles and were as follows:

Kizumonogatari Part 1 -Tekketsu-
Kizumonogatari Part 2 -Nekketsu-
Belladonna of Sadness
The Red Turtle + Father and Daughter short
Psychonauts, the Forgotten Children
A Silent Voice

For the record, I am not providing coverage of Psychonauts due to it not being Japanese in origin. The Red Turtle will have shorter coverage for a similar reason; I’ve only included it at all due to Studio Ghibli’s involvement.

Before we dive into the anime, let’s first talk about the event itself. This year’s Animation Day was once again held in the Leeds Town Hall, which is a fantastic venue for this kind of event. The staff were friendly and helpful and I never had any issues getting around the venue to where I needed to be. A complaint of mine from last year was also addressed.  Last year I complained that the breaks for lunch and dinner weren’t long enough to actually find food (especially for those who might not live in Leeds), and this year the event did offer longer breaks. I’d had the foresight to pack some food for dinner this year anyway, but discovering that I could have had the freedom to leave the town hall and buy something was pleasing to hear.

My only major complaint this year involved actually getting to the venue. This isn’t really the fault of the film festival, but on the Animation Day there was a race for charity happening and the finish line was right in front of the town hall. Due to this it was near impossible to work out if I could access the front of the town hall to get into the venue or even where I could cross the road to get to it (due to the fact it was difficult to see where the course for the race was going). I eventually walked around the back of the nearby library and plotted a course from there. Once I got nearer the town hall I battled my way through spectators and realised that the front of the town hall was open for the festival. In hindsight I’m glad that I’d left home 10 minutes earlier than originally planned that morning, otherwise I would have missed the beginning of Kizumonogatari Part 1.

The only thing I wish we’d had from the organisers of the film festival was better signage or some comments on the social media regarding where attendees were meant to go to get into the venue. I personally know the area so I could navigate around the issue okay, but if anything like the charity race clashes again with Animation Day I do hope that the organisers can deal with it a bit differently. With that said, onwards to the films!

Kizumonogatari Parts 1 & 2

kizumonogatari-part-1
To start off the day we were treated to a double bill of 
Kizumonogatari Parts 1 and 2. I’ve previously watched the first few episodes of Bakemonogatari but I’ve otherwise never put much time into the Monogatari series despite knowing how well loved it is, so these movies were a first for me. The movies act as a prequel to Bakemonogatari so no previous knowledge of the Monogatari series is required, which was good news for people like me!

Kizumonogatari tells the story of Koyomi Araragi, a second year high school student just living his days peacefully. One day he befriends a female classmate named Tsubasa Hanekawa, who tells him a rumour about a blonde vampire that has been sighted around the town. Later that day as he walks home after buying some books, Araragi hears someone crying out for help and stumbles upon a mostly decapitated, yet somehow still alive, blonde haired woman. It turns out that this woman, known as Kiss-Shot Acerola-Orion Heart-Under Blade (Kiss-Shot for short), is the vampire from the rumours and she wants Araragi’s blood so that she can recover from her injuries!

Araragi agrees to give Kiss-Shot all of his blood despite the fact it means his death, but instead of dying it turns out that Kiss-Shot has turned Araragi into a vampire too! She promises that she’ll turn him back into a human later but he must first help her hunt down 3 powerful vampire hunters and take back the limbs they stole from her. Using his newfound vampire powers, Araragi fights to reclaim the limbs and to one day regain his normal everyday life.

The first part of Kizumonogatari spends the majority of its hour runtime simply on setup and some character development, which works nicely because it doesn’t feel like it drags on too long nor rushes the plot along too quickly. That said, it would have been somewhat awkward if Part 2 hadn’t also been shown because you’d have been left feeling like Part 1 was a bit of a waste – but thankfully that wasn’t the case.

Part 2 focuses a lot more on the action side of things and sees Araragi battling it out with the vampire hunters, while also offering development for his friendship with Hanekawa. Like the first part it only has a runtime of just over an hour, but a lot gets done and the action on offer is simply superb. There are moments where the movie slows down and I got a bit disconnected from it but this is a problem I’ve found with the Monogatari series in general, so I don’t believe it’s the fault of these movies alone.

Like the main series, Kizumonogatari is being handled by studio SHAFT (Madoka Magica, March Comes in Like a Lion) and has a blend of 3D backgrounds and props while the characters are still very 2D. It’s an interesting mix but one that seems to work quite well, although I will mention that the world of Kizumonogatari is very dark and made up of variations of white, grey, brown and black. It’s not a terrible thing but I almost wish there had been a tad more colour on offer to shake things up.

The music for the two parts has been handled by Satoru Kosaki, who has worked on the Monogatari series since the beginning. The soundtrack is full of delicate pieces but also much louder, more compelling tracks for the action scenes. It has to be said that out of everything I watched for the Animation Day, the soundtracks for Kizumonogatari Parts 1 and 2 were the best.

Overall Kizumonogatari works as a solid starting point for anyone not familiar with the Monogatari series. It won’t feel complete until I’ve seen the third part, but the second part made for a good enough stopping point. Now I’m just eagerly awaiting more of it. It’s worth noting for people who want more of Kizumonogatari, like me, that the original light novel has been released in English thanks to Vertical.

Score: 8/10

Belladonna of Sadness
belladonna-of-sadness
Belladonna of Sadness is a movie from 1973 that was inspired by the French novel Satanism and Witchcraft written by Jules Michelet. Now this is an 18 rated film and features more adult content than I wish to remember, but I don’t want to talk about that per se. I’d rather offer a little bit of background information and then explain why the movie didn’t really work for me as a viewer.

The story is based around a woman known as Jeanne. On her wedding night, Jeanne is forced into a ritual deflowering by the local baron and some of his staff members. After this event she begins to see a spirit who leads her to eventually gain the power to overthrow the local baron and those who caused her so much suffering.

What Belladonna of Sadness is trying to do, outside of the blatant sex and sexual references, is tell the story of a woman going through suffering and then becoming empowered from her experiences. I think that back in 1973 this premise was probably much more powerful and thought-provoking than it is now. It’s not merely the fact that this scenario is a bit outdated, it’s also that I think other media and films have used similar ideas and simply presented them better.

I have to admit I’m not someone who likes heavily artistic films and Belladonna of Sadness goes so far in its approach to – frankly – crazy animation that it was difficult to keep track of what was happening and not be thrown out of the story. The animation does look really pretty as it has a lot of watercolor images but the constant and graphic sexual content being depicted was enough to put me off. I don’t think I was the only one who felt that way either, as the overall feeling in the hall was quite muted. When the credits finally rolled, the friend I’d watched it with and I looked at one another completely bewildered as to what we’d just experienced.

Overall I think Belladonna of Sadness was trying to make a statement, but that point was probably much clearer back in the 1970s as opposed to the present. I also admit to potentially being the wrong audience for this type of film because it isn’t the kind of thing that I’d usually go out of my way to watch. If you find yourself intrigued by my write-up then certainly give it a watch, but as it stands I don’t recommend it.

Score: 4/10

The Red Turtle

the-red-turtle-posterThe Red Turtle is a French animated film directed by Michael Dudok de Wit, who was behind the Father and Daughter short back in 2000 – which won many awards at the time. The Red Turtle was co-produced between Wild Bunch and Studio Ghibli. The involvement of Studio Ghibli is why I’m covering the movie for this article, but frankly it seems as though their involvement with it was fairly small.

The film tells the story of a man, who remains nameless, that gets shipwrecked and wakes up on a deserted island. After he has explored and gathered his bearings, the man decides to build a raft to get himself off the island. It’s not long until the raft is complete and he sets sail, but once reaching a certain distance from the island, the raft is destroyed by a red turtle. The man tries again to make a raft and leave the island but once more the raft is broken apart by the turtle. Is our protagonist destined to never leave the island?

It’s difficult to write about The Red Turtle because the movie has no dialog at all, so saying too much about the story would likely spoil someone’s enjoyment of it. However, while the plot is lacking in complexity, that doesn’t mean the movie isn’t deeply emotional – because it is. On the contrary, The Red Turtle does all the right things to make you care about this man and gives him a lot of character despite the fact that he never speaks. It’s very interesting and the mark of a good film.

The biggest disappointment that I had with The Red Turtle is that it didn’t seem to have great deal of work put into it by Studio Ghibli animation wise. The protagonist and much of the world around him were presented in CGI animation, but even when there was some traditional hand drawn animation, it didn’t scream Ghibli. This doesn’t make it bad by any means but it is worth noting for anyone who was going into it hoping for something more closely resembling a Ghibli movie.

Overall The Red Turtle is emotional and has a solid idea behind it. It’s not quite what I was expecting but that certainly doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy it. Perhaps it’s not something that I’d watch again, but I and the audience watching it (judging by the round of applause afterwards!) had a good time.

Score: 7/10

A Silent Voice

a-silent-voice-image

The last film of the night was undoubtedly the best of the day. The 2016 Animation Day came to a close with a showing of A Silent Voice by Kyoto Animation, a film based on an award winning manga (which is published by Kodansha and is also on Crunchyroll).

The story centers around Shoya Ishida, who back in elementary school bullied a deaf classmate of his, Shoko Nishimiya. Now in high school and isolated by his classmates due to his past sins, Shoya plans on committing suicide. However, one of the things he wants to do before ending his life is to track down Shoko in order to apologise for what he did as a child. After meeting Shoko and realising that she’s still suffering due to his past actions, Shoya is determined to finally put things right and works hard to be a good friend to her.

The most important part of A Silent Voice is that it isn’t just about Shoko’s suffering, it’s about the suffering that both of them go through. After Shoko eventually transferred schools because of the bullying, her former classmates blamed and started to pick on Shoya despite the fact that they were also responsible for what happened to Shoko. All throughout middle school and high school Shoya continued to be isolated as people learnt what he’d done back in elementary school.

While the core of the story is about the relationship between Shoko and Shoya, it also delves into the feelings of Shoko and Shoya’s former classmates. Shoya wishes to reconnect Shoko with their old classmates that she didn’t have the chance to become friends with back then. As he does so, he discovers how much fun it is to have friends and how much better the world is for it.

I also really want to mention just how wonderful it is to have an anime that features a deaf character and to have multiple characters who have learned sign-language because of her. The original manga series was supported by the Japanese Federation of the Deaf due to how well it covered the subject, and Kyoto Animation have carried over that quality very well. I don’t know much about sign-language but from what is shown in the movie it seems accurate enough to me. I don’t know anyone who is deaf either, but from the way Shoko is portrayed, I believe it’s realistic to how someone who is deaf might act.

The animation on offer was beautiful, although perhaps not that much better than Kyoto Animation’s usual TV output. I think I’ve been spoilt by the efforts of this studio and the wonderful anime they’ve created over the years because I was left feeling like the animation for A Silent Voice just wasn’t that special. Don’t get me wrong – it’s still heads and tails above other animation studios, it just didn’t surpass the usual Kyoto Animation standards.

Music was handled by Kensuke Ushio, who also worked on the music for Ping Pong The Animation. The soundtrack on offer seemed like a bit of a limited selection despite the fact the official CD release comes in at a massive 45+ tracks. I think perhaps the real problem here is that the scores just didn’t stand out, or because there were many piano pieces they all blended into one another in my head. It’s not a bad soundtrack but it’s not necessarily as good as I’d been hoping for (and led to believe) going into this showing.

It’s interesting that overall I found myself in a similar situation to the previous film festival where the last movie of the day was truly the best. A Silent Voice is truly breathtaking in a way that no other film that day was. It’s dealing with very sensitive issues and did so extremely well by approaching it head-on but in a gentle, realistic manner. Anime Limited are planning on giving the movie a wider theatrical release in the future, so if it turns up near you I urge you to check it out.

Score: 9/10

Publisher: Animatsu
Type: Movie
Format: Blu-Ray
Language options: English dub audio only

MCM London Comic Con October 2016 Anime Licenses Round-Up – Day 1

It’s that time again. MCM London Comic Con has now begun and many new pieces of announcements have been unveiled bit by bit. Anime Limited have already started revealing six titles for their catalogue with many more to be announced, while Manga Animatsu have shown off one new title prior to the weekend. Here’s a round-up of all of the titles revealed for the first day of the weekend.

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30th Leeds International Film Festival 2016 Anime Line-Up Revealed!

2016 marks the 30th year for the Leeds International Film Festival and recently they have announced a whole bunch of films that will be screened across Leeds between 3rd to 17th of November 2016. Alongside these art house and cult titles are also some anime feature films; both new and old are included!

What’s in store? Let’s find out!

leeds-international-film-festival-30

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Scotland Loves Anime 2016 Line-up Announced! Includes A Silent Voice, Kizumonogatari & More!

In a months time the next Scotland Loves Anime festival will commence and now the full line-up of titles have been revealed for Edinburgh and Glasgow.

Edinburgh is 17th-23rd October and Glasgow is 14th-16th October.

The 2016 line-up includes a couple Manga UK favourites plus many premieres for recently released films from this year!

Scotland Loves Anime 2016

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