Thanks to its thoughtful screenplay and detailed execution, Koe no Katachi is an insightful drama that teaches us the value of communication through a nuanced coming of age story embedded with relatable teen issues.
The story revolves around Nishimiya Shoko, a grade school student who has impaired hearing. She transfers into a new school, where she is bullied by her classmates, especially Ishida Shouya. It gets to the point where she transfers to another school and as a result, Shouya is ostracized and bullied himself, with no friends to speak to and no plans for the future. Years later, he sets himself on a path to redemption.
Plenty of films have been made about high school, but not many dare make a genuine look into teen politics without resorting to cliched themes of sex and relationships. Koe no Katachi ( A Silent Voice / Shape of Voice) makes an unconventional yet interesting approach to create a mature story.
The well written script uses carefully placed flashbacks and parallel narratives. While the movie is marketed as a story of a deaf girl, it is really about her bully. Through Ishida Shouya, the movie delves into bullying, social anxiety, suicide, and isolation. At the same time we also get to see the dynamics of teen relationships. The romance is treated as a brief subplot, so the characters are left to deal with relatable personal issues of guilt and self-acceptance.
Compositions, sound design and musical score are able to convey the inner world of its lead characters, lending the movie a rare psychological depth. Naoko Yamada is able to capture the heightened emotions of the story without losing sight of its central theme.
Koe no Katachi, at its core, is about the value of communication in building human connections through its different forms – speech, body language, and empathy. The movie pushes you to listen and pay attention to details while its characters learn to do it along the way. In one scene Shouya says Shoko’s name for the first time and realizes his misguided quest for self-redemption.
The voice acting here is good and while I have not heard the English dubbed version, foreign language films are better seen as intended. The movie also makes an effort in giving a realistic portrayal of a deaf girl including Shoko’s odd voice, which is fitting considering she has never heard it, much less what a normal voice should sound like.
The result is a subtle and insightful drama that gives a genuine, nonjudgmental look into teen issues without striving for commercial appeal. Here you don’t have easy answers and neatly wrapped up resolutions.
Koe no Katachi is based on a 7 volume manga, so its often saddled by its own source material. The movie crams in too much information and introduces different secondary characters that often distract from the main narrative.
Nonetheless, A Silent Voice is an engaging, earnest, and well executed adaptation. It teaches us that to be able to face the world, we must learn to open up our own and to connect with others, we must learn to make peace with ourselves first.
My Rating: 8/10