There is something absolutely rewarding when you come out of a movie feeling like you had a release. The release of anxiety, sadness, dealing with the world, or better known as the factor of escapism. Escapism is a perfect reason to watch something, to escape into fiction for about two hours in order to feel something. Some people escape into grand adventure epics like Lord of the Rings, or maybe one prefers an emotional romp on the senses like The Notebook. Before we get into the question I want to ask, let’s not think of escapism as a bad thing. In fact it is probably one of the best out of body moments one can have, to escape for just a moment into the world of a Miyazaki film is just magical and entrancing. Yet whenever we discuss escapism and emotions there is something some people always try to bring up when you talk about how much you loved the experience of a movie. What did you think of it objectively though?
Objectivity is something that I think watching a film can’t be without, yet to say it is the end all be all factor is purely absurd. There is no true opinion that is 100% objective. Pure objectivity doesn’t really exist even if you think it does, it’s because we are a quilt of our experiences. Different threads from across our lifetime help to define who we are. Yet why do we strive to be objective, why do we not just let our emotions go on a magical ride on Falkor in the Neverending Story? Well it’s hard to define what we feel about a film without going into pros and cons no matter how much we may love it. There might be something on a rewatch you find problems with and maybe something in a bad movie that was better on rewatch. Experiencing a film and watching a film can be two entirely different things if you make it. An experience is purely taking in what is in front of you, and to me can be that sense of escapism. Watching something is taking into account the pros and cons or looking at how effective the film is. Both are good, and I enjoy both on a regular basis but at what point can we just sit back and enjoy the onslaught of emotions a movie can offer? That is I think the best question I can ask about A Silent Voice as a whole. In what sense does Koe no Katachi feel like a solid outing and how much of that is just the sense of you feeling for the film at hand? This is a hard question to ask and to say that you know the absolute answer is a bit absurd, so I’m not going to try to explain what everyone should think but rather my two cents on the subject while going through Koe no Katachi.
Koe no Katachi or A Silent Voice is a story about redemption and finding a meaning to live or to live for oneself. It is a teen drama about Shouya Ishida who bullies a young deaf girl, Shoko Nishimiya, to the point of destroying 8 pairs of her hearing aids. This is not a story of how the girl overcomes her adversity after the fact, but about the boy growing up and his path to redemption. As much as both play into the main narrative, the focus and ending payoff is on Ishida as we end the film with him. What makes this narrative so compelling as a story is the progression of the two leads and those closest to them. This is about a journey to discover one’s purpose in life. That may make it sound like they will be waxing philosophies, but instead it is about two people trying to find a reason for themselves to live rather than a general sense for humanity. It makes the tale all the more personal and we can connect to the story far easier that way, rooting for both of them pushing past their personal hang ups.
What this film does best is managing to make us as the audience connect with the struggles of the two leads. Those moments when you hear Shoko cry are some of the most emotionally charged scenes I have seen in a while. Those moments when Ishida is trying his best to make up for past mistakes, but is constantly hit with hardship after hardship is heart wrenching. Watching these two grow to love not only others and see the value in relationships, especially friends, and to love themselves is touching to say the least. We escape into their world and connect with them as people, connect with their struggles of being lost or feeling that they are not good enough because we know that deep down they are good and they might be us. When I watched Ishida, I felt myself at points, I started to recount the times that I as a child made the worst mistakes imaginable without realizing it. That is the power of these two leads to me, that they can allow us as an audience to connect on such an intrinsic level because they feel real.
Kyoto Animation made sure that everything was animated to the best of their abilities for these two characters. Whenever they interact with their families, showcasing the nuances of how they react and talk to certain people, everything is taken into painstaking detail that it is nigh impossible to find fault with them in my opinion. Watching the dedication to using close ups and effectively animating every little movement of the sign language showcasing the importance of it not only to the journey of our characters, but also to the emotional state of Shoko is great. They made me feel like I was there watching and learning with them. That is the power of escapism at its best, not only does the emotions invoke a sense of warmth or engagement but also it is backed up by a sense of passion from the staff involved in creating it.
Koe no Katachi as a whole however is a bit messy, and lacks effective use of character when we look past the two leads. I watched this movie with three friends. Two of them were watching this for the first time without knowing anything going into it, and my other friend and I were going into this knowing the entirety of the manga. After the movie finished I was asked a lot of questions about the meaning behind the some of the characters, and in the film I couldn’t find a point to some, where in the source they do indeed feel like they belong there. Characters like Sahara, the Grandmother, Mashiba, even just the lack of depth for some of the supporting cast in general. This is an adaptation and elements do need to be removed, yet I felt as if the removal of some elements made a lot of characters unnecessary. Sahara literally has one trait to her in the film, she was the person who tried to learn sign language. Mashiba doesn’t even have a point to existing in this film whatsoever as he contributes nothing to the overall progression, he wades more in the background. It confused me how the film was trying to handle these characters since they feel neutered in a sense and have a distinct lack of importance in the film yet the film still tries to give them something to appease fans of the source.
That is where I feel this film can fall apart in moments. Whenever you aren’t focusing on the leads, the story isn’t as engaging. The family situations feel discarded at points, much like Ishida’s money problem which was prevalent in the beginning but non-existent throughout the rest. This is a film trying to cover an entire manga filled to the brim with characters that all need a moment to shine or else they have no point to the story, and the film just couldn’t effectively decide whether they wanted to follow some parts of the source or leave it out. By making the story of the leads tighter by a narrative standpoint it made a lot of other characters feel like they were nothing more than plot points for progression yet even then they don’t effectively progress the story. Since they still have some of those strong character moments shoved into the film without much lead up to them. It lacks that emotional weight when you try to connect to the struggles of the side characters. My friends loved the leads but couldn’t care less about the rest of the cast, and I think that is a shame.
However there were two highlights in the supporting character department that came in terms of Nagatsuka and Ueno. Nagatsuka was a character everyone could connect with, was the comedic foil for the film, and had impassioned talks throughout the film that didn’t come out of nowhere and was developed properly through his time shared with Ishida. Ueno was the same as we saw a good sense of progression with her character, while giving us a very brash viewpoint of those who can’t understand the other perspective. In ways both of these characters were actually made more likeable through the film and were given ample time to develop them alongside the two leads whether it be a strong sense of friendship from Nagatsuka or the jealous lash of Ueno. You understood their motivations and saw them evolve through the film and that is more than I can say for the others.
There is one point of the film that I can say is just plain brilliant sometimes and that is the cinematography and animation. Flawless use of simple moments to convey broader terms. Effective scenes where the actions spoke louder than the words, much like Kawai’s apology at the end. Kawai likes to play the “victim” in scenarios trying to appear like she has no fault in anything and can see herself doing no wrong. Her apology looked exactly like that and stayed true to her character. Rather than speaking directly to Shoko’s face to allow her to read her lips, Kawai proceeds to raise her voice so Shoko can hear her properly then proceeds to carry on her apology by hugging her and talking more to Mashiba than she is to Shoko. Great use of direction in showcasing a character and their hidden motivation underneath something that should feel sincere but comes off more as trying to appeal to others rather than the one she is apologizing to. That is only one of the many scenes that utilize a sense of show don’t tell and convey more than what is written on the page.
Yet the praise dissipates when you look at how scattershot the times are for the film. This is a film that takes strides instead of steps, leaping through time rather than allowing it to take its course. My friends who were new to the material were confused in moments on how much time had passed in some scenes when they did transitions. Sometimes it was done well and others it felt like a lack of attention to detail. There are these small moments where it can break the immersion for a viewer and can cause some confusion, when fans of the source material or those who have read it can tell where they are.
Then I thought to myself “Am I enjoying this more because I know the source material or less?” I think it’s a little bit of both. I appreciate the refining of the main focus of the story, yet felt like and understood why the brunt of the decision making just didn’t connect as a film. Some moments lacked the emotion because of the lack of detail they were allowed to add (yet they for some reason kept some random parts in that lacked a punch due to the removal of other parts). Some moments were out of this world as the voice acting of Shoko brought me to tears in moments, the visual and audio nature of the medium heightened some scenes and invoked new emotions from me. In some ways it failed and in others it surpassed which left me with the dilemma of how do I feel about the experience and how do I feel about the watch. To me there was no easy answer.
Koe no Katachi as an experience is uplifting as much as it is sad to watch. This is a story about the emotions of our leads and due to the effective technical nature of the film it worked on that part. Some of the music was phenomenal and amplified the emotion, the direction worked to sell how you should feel towards the actions of some characters, and the animation was breathless especially for an animated film that was longer than two hours. You can connect with the leads, understand their struggles all thanks to the voice actors which made the characters transcend merely words and felt real in moments. You cried with them and your heart broke in two as they went through hardships. Yet I felt myself unable to connect with much else within the film.
Koe no Katachi as a watch is a mixed viewing that lacks a sense of importance, yet it manages to effectively do some scenes brilliantly. There is this strong sense of show don’t tell, which I feel is pivotal in a film titled “A Silent Voice”. Though we can’t say it is a flawless film as it is held up by a wrong sense of world-building through its cast. The characters are not as fleshed out as our leads and lack proper necessity in the plot besides bolstering the leads. We can’t connect with them because the film doesn’t give us many chances to try to. Instead some feel underutilized despite their screen time and others feel almost one dimensional tertiary characters rather than a supporting role.
So how does this film answer the question posed above? I think it answers it perfectly, nothing is crystal clear in a viewing experience. The connection a film can draw from you can positively shade your colouring of the experience, yet the technical problems can cause a disconnect with me and its supporting cast. Experiencing and watching a film can meld together, sometimes either portion can take you out of the moment and both can make you fall in love with a film. We can sit back and let the emotions run over us if the connection feels strong enough I feel. When you can feel something towards each scene of the film besides nitpicking the flaws. Yes the flaws are still there and you may mention them afterwards as I did with my friends, yet if an experience is great enough you can almost forget those flaws throughout the viewing and be taken for a ride. The same can be said about watching as well. There is no clear and defined way to enjoy film and I still after watching this movie feel like the answer depends on who you are as a person, what you have experienced in life and what can you tolerate. Koe no Katachi is just the film to sit back and enjoy the emotions that take place since the one element is executed so well that it is worth watching no matter how flawed the other elements are.
Does this really offer an answer to the question? Maybe not if you were looking for the most definitive answer possible. Yet to me I feel as though that is still an answer worth searching for. You may go through life and never know what exactly caused you to like that one film you love unconditionally yet its bad on most accounts, or even dislike a film that for all extents and purposes is a well-made film. The experience is our emotion, and the watch is our immersion. Both intertwine to make us an audience member so it’s hard to tell what the line is when both feel so pivotal. We may never find the definitive answer, and sometimes that can be alright.
Well due to overextending myself at the gym I have held off on typing up new posts for last week. I learned I am not good at gauging myself. That being said, I have been working on this post for a bit trying to think of how to effectively say what I mean to say about Koe no Katachi. I thought this would be the perfect film to bring up the objectivity vs emotions argument I hear so much about and to offer my two cents.
So what do you think about Koe no Katachi? What do you think about the whole Emotions vs Objectivity argument? Please feel free to leave a comment down below and don’t forget to have yourself a phenomenal day!