One of the flaws of western film-making is that we’re not very good at portraying disabilities as a normal part of everyday life.
Every time a film does take a chance in the portrayal of a disability, it tends to be the main driving force of the plot. Sure these have their place in storytelling, but I would like to see more portrayals of normalcy. Maybe a comedy film where the lead character is deaf? Or a romance where one of the participants is in a wheelchair?
While we might be failing, fortunately we can look to our film-making cousins in Japan to try and rectify this.
A Silent Voice follows the story of two students: Shoko Nishimiya (Saori Haymai), a newly transferred female student who happens to be deaf; and Shoya Ishida (Miyu Irino), a male student at her new school who bullies her.
This constant bullying forces Nishimiya to change schools, leaving Ishida ostracised and hated by his fellow classmates and it seems both students are setting down dark and disturbing life paths.
However, a sudden reunion with between the two many years later forces Ishida to rethink his past behaviour, and he sets out on a journey to atone for his sins.
Adapted from the popular Japanese manga, A Silent Voice is quite a difficult film to define as it covers a range of topics such as friendship, atonement, regret, suicide and learning to love those who are different.
But at its core is bullying and how people (especially children) can be unfathomably unkind to each other. Such an approach was always going to be difficult and director Naoko Yamada is to be commended for tackling such a demanding subject.
However it’s the exploration of bullying’s aftermath that really elevates this film above its peers. How long must a bully bear the sins of his past? Should he be forgiven? And by who? Such questions are all at least touched upon as Ishida goes on his journey to escape from his past.
Alongside the story is, of course, the visuals. With no outlandish or fantastical story lines, the film allows itself to take a more low key approach, which lends greatly to the more hard hitting issues that the film strives to explore.
But above even the themes and visuals is undoubtably the music. Kensuke Ushio, the film’s composer, has created an audio masterpiece that can comfortably sit beside other emotionally moving pieces on the various “best of” lists.
While A Silent Voice works on many different levels, I don’t think this film will resonate with everyone (which is truly a shame). The unusual editing choices, as well as the decision not to subtitle the sign language, may leave some viewers feeling a lot more detached than they might expect to.
While not as accomplished as films such as Your Name; A Silent Voice is nevertheless a stunning portrayal of love, life and loss in the tragic experience that we call life.