Saturday, 22 April 2017

A Silent Voice (2017) - Movie Review

Previously on this blog, I have discussed certain aspects of my own film-watching philosophy, in that I consider cinema to be an inherently emotional art form and that it should be perceived and commented on as such. However, I understand that there are parts of that mindset that contradict others. Emotions are far from being simple things, considering we rarely if ever experience just one of them on their own. By contrast, I tend to treat the films I review on here in rather simple terms; this is why films like Moonlight are as difficult to pin down as they are, since they actively go against my usual ‘one and done’ methodology.
And sure enough, we have another example of that today with quite possible the most perplexing emotional post-film reaction I’ve gotten yet. Petulant anger, holding back tears, relief that came seemingly out of nowhere? I barely know how to process these feelings in real life, let alone writing about them at length in connection to fiction. Nonetheless, let’s press forward with this incredibly odd feature.

The plot: Shōya (Miyu Irino), a school bully, finds himself isolated from everyone else after he bullies a new student, a deaf child named Yuzuru (Aoi Yuki). Years later, and now in high school, he meets Yuzuru again and wants to make up for his past discretions. However, as he reconnects with his past classmates, he discovers that the road to redemption is a lot bumpier than it looks.

However inadvertent it may have been, this film is already off to a promising start with its themes of the general difficulties when it comes to communication. I say this because I wound up watching the Japanese subbed version of this film at my local cinema. I haven’t really gotten into this at any real length before but I do try to avoid anime subs as best I can because, quite frankly, I have enough difficulty reading emotions off of other people when they are speaking a language that I can understand. This will unfortunately mean that I won’t be doing my usual cast rundown as per usual with my reviews, although in fairness the acting is pretty decent across the board, but like I said, it unintentionally manages to get that theme across before the first frame of the film even starts. It takes something quite special to be able to do that, regardless of circumstances.

As the film kicks off, we essentially get a snapshot of our characters in elementary school, complete with all the social awkwardness and unintended hostility that comes with it. However, this ends up taking up far less of the running time than would be expected, with most of it spent with these characters during their high school years. Regardless, what does this film have to say about the social interactions of the young? Honestly, an awful lot, to the point where I am still trying to process everything after having seen it. Anyone who has kept up with my reviews for any amount of time will know that this is quite an anomaly. Starting off with characters who may be in varying places on the scale of likeability, from the eventually sympathetic Shōya to the terminally hateful Naoka, the film gives all of them a startling amount of believability that these are close facsimiles of the real world, resulting in a film that cuts very close to the grain in much the same way The Breakfast Club did way back when in its rather unflinching look at teenaged relationships and the internal politics that informs them.

This leads to quite a few humourous moments throughout as we watch these kids bicker with each other and get into… let’s say rather bizarre situations. I get the feeling that this is where the sub situation becomes a double-edged sword because there’s definitely a few scenes that feel incredibly out-of-place and probably only make sense if you understand Japanese. There’s something about the use of puns, a form of comedy that does not translate well across the language barrier, which can be a bit alienating. Of course, this film can feel disjointed anyway with how it will occasionally flashback to scenes that aren’t even in the film proper. It’s an incredibly disorienting experience when the film is at its most oblique, but thankfully, that doesn’t happen too often. Hell, as much as the whole “characters who are meant to be hated” style of writing may irk, that same sense of realism lends a lot of credibility to this film’s funnier moments.

Truth be told, I am still working through this film even as I write this, but one definite feeling came across as I left the cinema: Anger. Specifically, anger at how Shōya’s character is handled. Now, showing him initially as a school bully was risky but it did end up creating a nice contrast to the very isolated, very depressed person he would become in his teens. However, while the film turns out what are honestly a couple of pretty tone-deaf moments concerning thoughts of suicide, it does end up making you sympathize with him and his want to be a better person. This ends up doing the film a serious disservice though because, for the entire film, he is basically treated like he is either the same person he was back then or still needs to punished for what he did, as if his own brain isn’t doing that for him already.
Knowing my own difficulties in any form of socialisation for the entirety of my schooling experience, I can’t help but be extremely angry at this framing. Putting aside the simple fact that most if not all primary schoolers are little hellions in their own right, making him hardly the only one worth scorn, there’s also how he does indeed end up being the only one who appears to need to be taught a lesson. When you have Naoka, a repentant bitch who never progressed past the forced social mentality of her younger self, in the same scene, that is not something that should be brought across. Add to this a rather hazy character arc, if it can even be considered one, and what I genuinely feel to be a wrong approach with the film focusing on his self-isolation more than the (understandable and rather justified) reasons for that self-isolation.

All in all, I get the feeling that this film will leave me with a better impression if I was to watch it again. For right now though, I can’t really say that I enjoyed this. Maybe that was the point, that I was meant to feel sorry for Shōya, but with how the film presents not only him but the characters and scenes around him, it just feels like they’re beating down this kid even though he is actively trying to do better. As someone who has had to wrestle with the odd demon in the past, I don’t have a lot of sympathy for this method.

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