‘A Silent Voice’ – a powerful animated drama about bullying on Netflix

A Silent Voice (Japan, 2016), an animated feature, adapted from the popular manga serial “The Shape of the Voice” and directed by Naoka Yamada, takes on the issue of school bullying through the story of Shoya (voiced by Miyu Irino), a fun-loving rascal who feeds off the attention he gets when he starts making fun of Shoko, a deaf girl who joins his grade school class. When he pushes the ridicule into cruel and destructive acts, including ripping an expensive hearing aid from ear and crushing it, Shoko transfers and Shoya is shunned by his classmates, taking the blame for their own complicity in his bullying. Years later, high school student Shoya (still an outcast) attempts to make amends by reaching out to Shoko; he even learns sign language.

The story itself is much more complex than this summary—it opens with Shoya planning suicide and follows his struggles with guilt—and the film creates a nuanced cast of characters, from the leads to minor players, to delve into the nuances and complexities of the relationships and the guilt and denial of their actions. While Shoya makes a sincere effort to be a better person, classmates who encouraged and even joined in the bullying are forced to confront their actions (or inactions) when he brings Shoko back into their lives.

The film, directed by Naoko Yamada, is sympathetic to Shoya without letting him off the hook. He puts us into Shoya’s head as his guilt and the blame of his fellow students isolates him, using manga-style graphics to accentuate his disconnection. Most importantly, it acknowledges and embraces the confusing emotions of adolescence as it explores issues of self-esteem and forgiveness.

A Silent Voice is intelligent, complex, and sensitive, a well-made drama of school bullying that delivers a powerful and important message about responsibility and kindness. It was a hit in Japan and received limited theatrical distribution in the U.S.

Also features the voices of Saori Hayami, Aoi Yûki, Kenshô Ono, and Yûki Kaneko.

Rated TV-14, with original Japanese and English language soundtracks and optional subtitles

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Also on Blu-ray and DVD and on SVOD through Amazon Video, iTunes, GooglePlay, Fandango, Vudu and/or other services. Availability may vary by service.
A Silent Voice – The Movie [Blu-ray]
A Silent Voice – The Movie [DVD]

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The Blu-ray+DVD combo pack from Shout! Factory presents both original Japanese and English dub soundtracks, with promotional videos, music videos, and trailers (in Japanese with subtitles).

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Sean Axmaker is a Seattle film critic and writer. He writes the weekly newspaper column Stream On Demand and the companion website, and his work appears at RogerEbert.com, Turner Classic Movies online, The Film Noir Foundation, and Parallax View.

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