Anyone who knows me or follows me on Twitter is sure to have been a victim of my rants about A Silent Voice by now. I regard the manga very highly, and recommend it to people every chance I get. So when the film was announced, I was naturally excited for it, even more so when I saw that Yamada Naoko and Kyoto Animation would be tasked with the adaptation.
This was a match made in heaven; strong source material in the hands of one of the most talented directors in the industry, with equally talented staff supporting her. It was a sure-fire recipe for success.
I re-read the manga in its entirety a few months before seeing the film, so it was still reasonably fresh in my mind. Condensing 62 chapters of manga into just over two hours is not an easy task, and I expected there to be liberal cuts. If you go into A Silent Voice expecting a panel-by-panel rehash of the manga, you will leave sorely disappointed. Although I admit I was surprised at how the story was cut and reframed, I also believe the film was all the better for it.
As a film, A Silent Voice is much more focused and purposeful in its storytelling. Entire side character arcs and backstories have been cut out, which inevitably causes some minor issues – some side characters seem shallow and out-of-place at times, and there is much less mention of discrimination against the hearing-impaired in wider society compared to the manga. Time constraints aside, this also feels like a very deliberate directorial choice, and the end result is a much more personal and compelling story. Yamada and scriptwriter Yoshida Reiko have enabled Shouya’s development and his interactions with Shouko to take centre stage from start to finish.
But what makes A Silent Voice so special? Surely creative adaptation is nothing new?
Well, if I were to summarise it in one word, it would be “vision”.
No analysis or dissection of craft this polished could ever do it justice, and its complexity makes it seem foolish to even try. Suffice to say that Yamada’s hand is all over this film – from the camerawork and lighting, to the character acting, and even the sound design and soundtrack. Yamada has always been known as a hands-on director, but in A Silent Voice, her incredible vision for the film exudes from each frame. Every single element has been crafted and put together with meticulous care and precision, with the sole purpose of constructing her vision. Absolutely nothing is wasted as Yamada takes the source material and makes it thoroughly her own.
So much of this film is dedicated to giving viewers an experience in addition to conveying the story. As Shouya struggles to atone for his sins and grows closer to Shouko, we get glimpses of what life is like for her. Much of the sign language is left completely unvoiced, and we are often left to interpret the character’s thoughts through body language alone. Nishiya Futoshi’s characters are animated in stunning detail, and move almost as if they are real people.
Where sound is used, it adds another layer to the experience. Tracks composed by Ushio Kensuke, featuring dampened piano notes interspersed with noise, accompany the majority of the film. Reverberation is used in certain scenes to create the impression of feeling the sound as opposed to merely hearing it. As the film progresses, we begin to understand Shouko’s pain, her motivations, and her struggles, culminating in one of the most incredible scenes I have ever seen in an anime.
It’s rare to see a film constructed so purposefully and meticulously, animated or otherwise. Yet A Silent Voice never imposes itself on the viewer, and at no point does the emotion feel forced. As kVin eloquently describes in his review:
“The manga was so eager to convey emotion it blunted the readers’ senses, and at its most passionate it bordered on histrionic. This adaptation envelops Ishida’s story with tenderness instead, something more coherent with the work’s message.”
In this respect, comparing the manga to the film is like comparing a sledgehammer to a scalpel. Each scene in the film is built up of countless tiny details designed to convey subtle emotion and meaning, something that Yamada has discussed multiple times in her interviews. In fact, there are so many subtle intricacies that I would almost venture to say that it’s impossible to fully appreciate it on the first viewing alone.
Naturally, I am eager to see it again the first chance I get.
A Silent Voice is truly something that has to be seen and experienced to be believed. It is technically brilliant, incredibly emotive, and beautifully constructed. It’s a story not just about bullying and the difficulties faced by the hearing-impaired, but also about people and their struggle to connect with each other. To quote Yamada, it’s a story that “depicts the softness that lies within the harsh portions of our hearts”.
Every so often you come across a film so good that it needs little praise.
Sometimes the silence in the theatre says it all.
As a bit of addendum, here are some amusing observations of a few people who went with me to see the film:
- Serial snacker while watching movies – stopped eating partway through and didn’t touch his snacks for the rest of the film
- Serial mobage player who never hesitates to play mobage anywhere and everywhere – put his phone down and didn’t touch it for the entirety of the film
If this doesn’t speak for the quality of A Silent Voice, I don’t know what does.