Both Your Name as well as A Silent Voice were snubbed in the Academy Award nomination for Best Animated Feature Film–in favor for, believe it or not, the likes of Boss Baby. Now, we all know that the Academy Awards are more political than an actual representation of what’s actually the “best of the best”, but it certainly would’ve been cool to see a non-Ghibli anime film snag a nomination, I’m just sayin’.
On a more positive note, A Silent Voice as well as Your Name were in the nominations for best animation at the 40th Japanese Academy Awards, with A Silent Voice snagging the trophy, much to the chagrin of Your Name backers. When this occurred, I had seen Your Name, but I hadn’t been able to see A Silent Voice, so I couldn’t actively weigh in on the decision. This past weekend my local theatres re-released A Silent Voice for a one-night showing, and now I can say without a doubt that A Silent Voice deserved the win.
A Silent Voice Deserved the Win
First off, let me just note that when I went to see A Silent Voice this past Friday with my sister, I came out of the theatre with my eye sockets sore from crying so freaking much. Seriously. And, like the spaz I am, I wore non-waterproof mascara. So by the end of the movie I was basically Britney Spears in her “Lucky” music video after repeatedly being send into uncontrollable sobs from this film. A Silent Voice hits you where it counts, trust me.
I’ve already touched on the premise of A Silent Voice in my Manga Monday #5 post about the manga of the same name which the movie is adapted from, but just as a refresher Shoya is a popular elementary schooler who, when a deaf girl named Shoko transfers to his class, takes it upon himself to begin what becomes a horrendous event of classroom-wide bullying. As Shoko eventually transfers schools, Shoya becomes the new target and is subjected to the same treatment Shoko faced.
As years and years of bullying wear at Shoya, he comes to accept it as his penance for he did. Weighed down by guilt and shame, Shoya, now in high school, has been relegated the role of outcast for years by now as he is followed by his past mistakes. Utterly defeated and full of the highest form of self-hatred, Shoya has very little will to continue living, and it is only through reconnecting with Shoko that he begins to move forward a little bit.
A Silent Voice is one heck of a manga-to-film adaptation. I mean, holy crap, right down to visual metaphors used in the manga, as we see the x’ed out faces of the peers surrounding him at school every day. I loved how this made its way into the film as it was always an incredibly compelling device to describe Shoya’s feelings.
I also found that, while bullying is obviously a clear cut theme to attach to this film and its manga counterpart (and of which was the center topic of my original post), the most pervasive message of the film seemed to center around a question surrounding what’s happening internally as we consider such options as suicide.
Bullying is inexcusable, true, but just what about bullying can push people to lose the will to live? Really, it’s the degrading nature of bullies, chipping away at our self-worth a little at a time, that is the most the destructive to people. Watching the film, I felt a much stronger vibe of how bullying puts us in a place that we begin to bully ourselves. While bullies are that catalyst, it is the self-hatred that eventually drowns us. It is when we believe what we’re being told that we find that we can’t hold on anymore, a theme which had me in tears throughout the majority of the film.
It’s interesting to compare the experiences of Shoya and Shoko. Whereas Shoya at first led a very socially fulfilling life (portrayed very nicely in a montage scene at the beginning of the film, played out to the tune of “My Generation” by the Who), Shoko’s entire life–both at home and otherwise–has been a constant bombardment of feeling like she’s a burden to those around her due to her handicap.
The fact that Shoko has felt like she’s imposing since she was born in contrast to Shoya being suddenly thrust out as a social pariah, you have to ask: Who ask it worst? Is it more horrible never know, in the case of Shoko, the taste of a happy social life? Or, in the case of Shoya, is it worse to have tasted a good thing only to have it be ripped away when you screw up?
Beyond comparing apples to oranges, I really do appreciate how A Silent Voice handles the sensitive topics that it touches. And, dude, it grazes a lot of them. Not only are do you witness horrific bullying as well as suicidal thinking, you also see culturally corrupt thinking against those with a handicap in Japan.
Shoko is deaf and deserving of the least restrictive learning environment possible, and yet she is placed into a classroom with no aids at her disposal. Thus she is forced to act as her own aid all while feeling like she an inconvenience to all those around her. Even if you can write-off the actions of elementary-aged students, you can’t look past the fact that in the end even the teacher did nothing to help Shoko, let alone any other adult in the school. The only intervention that was sought is when Shoko’s mother demanded to be repaid for the many hearing aids that were either stolen or broken by Shoko’s peers, and how sad is that?
A Silent Voice takes hold of every social sensitivity you could think of and addresses the complexities of family, friends, and life when a person is ostracized from a normal social experience. The fact is that when a person is suffering is doesn’t only effect that person, the pain in fact surges through an entire web of other people. It is that person’s friends or family struggling to encourage them to hang on, it is that constant fear of that person letting go at a time or place where you couldn’t do anything to stop them.
While Your Name is an epic sci-fi romance for the ages, A Silent Voice touches on something far more relatable. Shoya and Shoko’s experiences are extreme, but that doesn’t keep their characters from being relatable. Overcoming our own shortcomings, getting past our mistakes and being able to openly forgive ourselves, these are very normal coming-of-age anecdotes.
It is the fact that these familiar narratives are placed into a tale that’s charged with complex devices which makes A Silent Voice even more powerful. It’s addressing the stresses of growing in a much broader question that asks a lot of open-ended questions about society as a whole. No question, A Silent Voice deserved every win it got.