A Silent Voice (Koe No Katachi – 聲の形 – in Japanese, translated as “The Shape of Voice”) is a story that, at first, I didn’t expect much and at the end of the day left me completely adrift and with tears on my eyes for treating such complicated subjects in such a sensitive manner.
On December 3, we have the International Day of Persons With Disabilities – instituted by UN in 1992, with the objective of raising awareness and acceptance towards people with disabilities on society. Even so, we see that’s still a taboo subject and acceptance, even in 2020, is still not what we expected.
Representation of people with disabilities on media in general is certainly complicated. If it isn’t seen as a stigma, it ends up a complete caricature and it’s difficult to believe in. That why I chose the movie A Silent Voice – a Japanese animation production – to talk about this theme today!
Incredibly sensitive even when talking about extremely heavy subjects, it’s a movie that entered my list of best productions I’ve already watched – and I hope it enters yours as well.
So fasten your seatbelts, today the lunar train has its departure to Japan, where we’ll meet a girl called Nishimiya who, because of a hearing disability, suffers bullying from her classmates.
(Warning: the movie talks about subjects like bullying, violence and suicide, themes that might be triggering for some people. I thought it was better to warn everyone, but I also warn it’s worth trying to watch it!)
Koe No Katachi – A Silent Voice, From Manga to Movie
The movie is based on a manga with the same name, written and illustrated by Yoshitoki Ouima. It was originally published as a one-shot – meaning, it’s a short story with only one chapter instead of many, as we are used to in mangas. After being serialized, it was concluded in 2014 and published in volumes by Kodansha in Japan.
On a quick overview, the story is about Shouko Nishimiya (西宮 硝子), a student who is deaf and, because of that, suffers constant bullying from her classmates – but mostly from Shouya Ishida (石田 将也). Because of that, her mother transfers her again from the school, and Ishida begins suffering bullying and ostracism as punishment. That, eventually, makes him search for Nishimiya to apologize for the things he did to her when they were younger.
Because of the story’s success, as it happens with many mangas, it was announced it would be adapted to an anime. However, this adaptation became a movie instead of a series – and that’s exactly what we’re going to talk about!
Koe No Katachi – The Movie!
Released in 2016, with production by Kyoto Animation, directed by Naoko Yamada and with the script written by Reiko Yoshida (hooray to women representation on cinema industry!), A Silent Voice became a movie for the big screens around the world.
The base story from the manga is the same: on it, we can see Nishimiya arriving at her new school after being transfered and already starting to suffer bullying from her peers – specially Ishida.
Personally, it was really painful to see Nishimiya suffering bullying – once I was a bullying target at school during years and years, on ways that were sometimes violent and psychologically traumatizing and exhausting – mainly because the girl is always sweet and nice: despite her disability, Nishimiya wants to connect with other people, but she doesn’t know how, remaining in silence until someone talks to her. And, in spite of her bullying, she always tries to be nice and welcoming to others.
Constantly ridiculed and with her hearing aids frequently ripped out by her classmates – hurting her and damaging the aids – Nishimiya’s mother decides the best thing to do is transfer her again to another school, because of her peer’s intolerance to her disability.
Ishida, the main responsible for the bullying suffered by Nishimiya, feels the situation turn against himself: as a punishment for all he did to the girl, he starts suffering bullying from his own friends and starts to be periodically left out, until he has no space on society anymore – just like he did to Nishimiya.
As the years go by, Ishida isolates himself even more, deciding, at highschool, to commit suicide for believing his life is completely disposable. He thinks it’s not worth it talking to people, barely looking at them in the eyes during his days.
That changes when Ishida decides to become Nishimiya’s friend, as a way to redeem himself from the pain he caused her when they were younger. Little by little, they unite on this unlikely friendship and end up gathering an also unlikely group of friends, slowly realizing that life is worth living.
Of course, the movie doesn’t come with the idea that everything gets magically better with friendships. The plot is a lot more intricate than that, the characters are much more complex and each of them has a personal motivation for their actions.
People’s attitudes towards Nishimiya makes the girl think more and more that everyone would be better off without her. In a decision towards the wellbeing of others and the belief that she was just a burden – such a sad and heavy image of herself, made by such a sensitive and gentle girl – Nishimiya tries to kill herself, but she is saved at the last moment by Ishida.
The movie shows that everything is much more complicated than what it looks on the surface. People aren’t that simple to understand and aren’t easily classified in good or bad. All the characters envolved have their hardships, their personal ghosts, bad behaviours and redemptions – human beings aren’t black and white as we usually want to believe in when labeling others.
Of course, with my personal history, it’s not easy to say something like this – but even people who practice bullying have their motives behind it. Sometimes, they can be purely selfish and mean, yes, but they can also be motives ruled by insecurities and fears. Depending on how those people see their own actions, remains the question if they deserve redemption in the future.
But the main point that, for me, is the most important one, is acceptance.
Nishimiya suffers from rampant intolerance, forcing her to have extremely complicated childhood and adolescence, marked by sad experiences, only because of a disability that wasn’t her choice. Instead of welcoming her, her classmates opted for excluding – and that brought terrible consequences for all people envolved, since the boy who mistreated her, to the girl’s family.
And all that because of lack of empathy, awareness and acceptance.
With a little more of all that, it’s possible to change other people’s lives. The movie makes it very clar: both Nishimiya and Ishida needed empathy and acceptance, they needed to comunicate with other colleagues and efectively be a part of society. Being accepted as they are, respecting the different limitations of each other, they manage to have hopes of better days and start to make better memories – that certainly will be marked for the rest of their lives.
Bullying and Acceptance of Different People
According to an UN research, one in three students in the world was a victim of bullying. Read the phrase again and let your mind effectively understand that number. The amount of people who suffered bullying, with horrible consequences, is too big.
Bullying can manifest both as physical abuse and psychological and, although all children can suffer from bullying, the ones who are deemed different generally are the ones who are most at risk. With the pandemics and migration of schools to digital means, there was a raise of cyberbullying – meaning the practice of bullying online.
What are the consequences of all that?
People who suffer from bullying have a greater probability of abandoning studies as well as low academic performance – just like Nishimiya was transfered from her school in Koe No Katachi because of bullying, my parents seriously considered transfering me to another school because of my increasing denial of leaving the house and academic performance getting worse as the days went by.
Those problems can make young people feel even more lonely and discount their feelings in drugs and alcohol – in addition to a direct connection between bullying and the increasing rates of suicide among young people, something the movie treats very well and in a very delicate manner.
Because of the lack of awareness and acceptance towards different behaviours and conditions – since the way someone dresses to mental or physical disabilities, like in the movie – bullying with those people is very common and treated as if it was “just a phase”.
Bullying is not a phase. Someone behaving the way they were born is not a phase. We need empathy to accept all different forms, colours and music with which every human being comes to earth.
That’s why days like today matter. We need to educate ourselves regarding others and educate our children about how to respect the other. Disabilities – be them physical, mental and etc. – cannot be treated as taboo. We need to get to know about them, talk about them, welcome and accept people like they are – making not only ours, but also their lives even better, one step after the other.
As Koe No Katachi makes it clear: we need to learn to listen to all melodies that each one can sing and, if we can’t hear them, we can learn to feel them.
Watch the Movie!
Are you interested and wants to know more about this story? Well, ready your handkerchief to dry your tears and let yourself be taken away on this voyage that makes us have more empathy towards other people!
Currently (December/2020) the movie is available on Netflix, on the link below: