Credit: Kyoto Animation

“A Silent Voice”: portraying reality in sensuous hues

A Silent Voice is a breathtaking masterpiece that deserved a longer time in the spotlight than it received. Directed by Naoko Yamada with her unique palette of colors, A Silent Voice is an animated film produced by Kyoto Animation adapted from the comic series of the same name. Yamada’s exceptional brushstrokes weave difficult topics into a painting with an ambiguous, yet satisfying conclusion in a little over 2 hours. 

The protagonist, Shoya (Miyu Irino), isolated and withdrawn, has shut everyone out of his life. He reunites with Shoko (Saori Hayami), a pure, straightforward girl who, in elementary school, he bullied for being deaf. The two are juxtaposed: Shoko, selfless and flower-like, tries to listen when she can’t, and Shoya, selfish and rough, never listens when he can. Shoya tries to find a way to patch up the wound he stabbed. The hesitant relationship between Shoya and Shoko poses the question of redemption. Is it fair for Shoya to want to take back something he previously abandoned? How will Shoko know he’s changed when she can’t even hear him?

This is no wholesome or kawaii love story. The topic of mental health is so complex that even if conveyed, it is overlooked by the majority as the messages are kept subtle. However, Yamada crosses the silently agreed taboo in Japanese mainstream media and uses the dismissed layers of mental health: bullying, depression, and suicide, a rather controversial topic in the anime industry, as the core and momentum of the film. 

Despite the heavy topic, the occasional sprinkle of humor emphasizes the good on some days. The comedic scenes aren’t overly exaggerated but still manage to provoke a giggle or two.

Kyoto Animation is known for its beauteous quality of animation that glistens like water. Yamada, however, mutes down the sparkles and twinkles. By avoiding bug eyes and Froot-Loops-hair, it brings focus to the small details that complement the delicate and sensuous tone of the film. Not only are the soft bounces of Shoko’s hair that match with the cherry blossoms aesthetically pleasing to the eye; the sound of her footsteps in rhythm with the gentle monophony is also heaven to the ears. The innocent felt-hammered sound of the piano is precisely captured, adding on a sense of realism. The simple but sentimental melody fuses into the art, creating a consonant chord that accompanies the two’s story to a conclusive cadence.

Though your tears won’t be animated in elegant flows, the film is definitely worth the cry. A Silent Voice is to be tasted with your ears and eyes, not your tongue. Prepare to ugly cry and for your heart to shatter.

Oh, and don’t forget your tissues.

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