A Silent Voice (2017, Japan)

a silent voice

Premise:

A deaf student, Nishimiya Shouko, transfers to a new school and becomes the target of bullying by a boy named Ishida Shouya. The bullying eventually culminates in Nishimiya leaving the school. In the aftermath of her departure, Ishida becomes ostracised by his friends. Five years later, Ishida meets Nishimiya again. The events that follow set Ishida on a terrifying journey to redemption.

What to expect:

The film focuses on Ishida Shouya’s journey, and to a lesser extent also tells the journey his friends take alongside him. Each scene triggers pivotal change in the characters, and this forms the entirety of the narrative in A Silent Voice. It is easy to slap the “character development” label onto any story, but there are few stories that focus their entire plot around character development, and A Silent Voice is a film that does this well.

Among my friends who watch A Silent Voice, there were an array of different perspectives on which of the supporting characters were relatable and which were not. These differing perspectives boil down to different real-life experiences, because real experiences dictate the kinds of fictional characters we understand. A Silent Voice shines a light on the types of people to whom we relate.

Discussion (Warning: Spoilers)

In A Silent Voice, Ishida Shouya seeks to mend his broken relationships. Success is made possible only with support and acceptance from his friends. In this way, the film reveals an important truth: reconciliation can be achieved only when everyone involved is willing.

a silent voice ueno naoko and ishida shouya

(…including her.)

Fortunately for Ishida Shouya, all the characters in A Silent Voice eventually find it in themselves to make the effort of reconciliation. Even Ueno Naoka is able to accept Nishimiya Shouko, to some extent.

So, what does this mean? Are the writers telling us that all broken relationships can be mended?

Unfortunately, real people don’t trust broken relationships so easily. For many people, it is more convenient to invest in new relationships than attempt to fix ones that didn’t work in the past. As a result, one person’s attempt at reconciliation is often met with stubborn resistance rather than a smile and open arms. Ishida Shouya’s story is ultimately idealistic.

This is a potent criticism of A Silent Voice. Human relationships are complex mazes, and idealistic stories tend to fail in capturing the internal struggles associated with human relationships. However, to say that A Silent Voice is idealistic is not to say that it is unrealistic.

Ishida Shouya’s internal struggle goes through many layers of guilt towards Nishimiya Shouko, fear towards his classmates, and a mixture of shame and hatred towards his old friends. Even the supporting characters, who do not have as much screen time, are revealed to be struggling with their own issues, and these issues manifest themselves in the ways they treat Ishida Shouya and each other.

Realistic stories show that life doesn’t go according to plan, bad choices have consequences, and all people struggle. A Silent Voice does not hide these truths, but tells a story of victory in spite of these truths.

These types of stories bring hope. They inspire. We may not win every race we run, but stories of a winner’s journey inspire us to run the race all the same. There is great value in stories that bring together idealism and realism. When it comes to the complex mazes that comprise human relationships, A Silent Voice speaks volumes.

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