The Art of Redemption
There must be some part of our DNA that conditions humans to lash out at the unknown, the different, the perceived unusual. Some sort of survival instinct with a proven track record to keep our idiocy ticking along a bit longer despite our gormless actions. If it isn’t built/coded into us already then unfortunately it’s ignorance guiding us, or more specifically it was an dumb choice and is now being dutifully/repetitiously schooled/conditioned into us down the generations. Thankfully with that awareness in mind, things can be changed for the better, for everyone, forever.
That may come across as a pipe dream, but everything around us is as it is because we let it be. Obviously I’m not on about situations like mortality and a double decker bus’s random decision to use your head as a parking spot, but more general everyday things like the treatment of our fellow humans in the context of how we personally treat folk, and how we allow others to treat them by our own silence or inactions.
There is no grand or simplistic solution to the darker sides of humanity, but there doesn’t have to be. If each and everyone of us took one tiny and individualistic deviation towards a more positive, respectful outcome, the combined mass would tip our collective journey away from the impending Cliffs of Oblivion and we get to be stupid for a wee bit longer. It’s not as if we have the collective experience of billions of people over thousands of years to guide us or anything.
Naoko Yamada’s chosen method of contributing to the further betterment of mankind (hopefully forever) is through the medium of anime, with her latest being the incredibly beautiful ‘A Silent Voice’ (2016). It’s being distributed by Anime Limited who previously released the also gorgeous ‘Your Name’ (2016) which equally had wonderfully thoughtful, real and emotionally intelligent topics, presented with beautifully nourishing visuals and story telling that feed hearts and minds.
‘A Silent Voice’ is altogether more grounded in reality and a many points reminded me of the best moments of the kids TV show ‘Grange Hill’ (or whatever generational equivalent suits you best) in that it deals with young lives taking their stumbling, often bruising steps into adulthood. These are the formative years were folk at their most ill prepared or least competent effectively deciding what kind of adult they are going to be, and they don’t even know it at the time.
Shoko is a an incredibly shy, but clearly beautiful in spirit and rightfully irrespective of the fact she is deaf and as such has difficulty in speaking. Despite her seemingly genetic imprisonment she is so full of life that in many ways is clearly freer than those around her. Her arrival in a new primary school begins a torment in the form of resident bully Shoya, who basically is a complete tosser. There were numerous occasions where I wanted to leap into the screen to have a not so quiet word in his ear, especially after one heart wrenching/flinching scene where he physically inflicts pain on the repeatedly persecuted Shoko.
It’s not just Shoya though, for various reasons others join in out of collaboration or fear of reprisal from Shoya, but the result is all the same to Shoya who’s short years on the Earth don’t really give her the capacity to cope, and why should she, she hasn’t done anything wrong at any point. Instead she even has the beautiful and tear inducing capacity (for the viewer) to openly forgive her abusers, which only spurs their hate on more so.
Five years later and Shoya’s actions have sunk into his young adult mind. His torment of Shoko has become his torment as he is literally on the edge of suicide. Faith intervenes and rather than a step off into oblivion, redemption offers another (more difficult) route as a distinctly fortuitous encounter with an older Shoko. She once again has the capacity for forgiveness, but Shoya feels he must earn it.
The story is adapted from a manga strip by Yoshitoki Oima and the movie maintains the original look and graphic playful/surreal elements that are an absolute delight to behold via the sublime skills of the Kyoto Animations studio. But they never detract from the incredibly heavy topics that are involved, if anything they are an phenomenally astute way of enabling the message to be absorbed, sugaring the pill. Everything is exceptional/extraordinary and immediately relatable/personable at the exact same time.
The journey to redemption isn’t easy, and nor should it be, so there are many potential pitfalls for Shoya along they way, but it’s all astutely played out.
It’s an incredible story, simultaneously simple and epic. Representing all of mankind’s collected experiences at the same moment and weight of the individual’s. Stunningly responsible in it’s portrayals, permeated with a profound intelligence that’s never arrogant nor condescending, it recognises that we are all constantly learning (well most of us) and is exceptionally generous in it’s tolerance and understanding of human frailties. It’s the perfect blend of art and story telling that will resonate with the young and old.
It’s a bit too long, though that’s not a profound negativity, far from it. But for the youthful minds that will benefit the most out of seeing it, it might switch them off given their apparent short attention spans. If anything I would have LOVED to have seen it as a much longer mini series, such is the level of attention given to the development of all the characters.
I’ve seen quite a few great movies this year that reverberated around my thoughts for a long time after, few to the level of ‘A Silent Voice’. A beautifully rewarding experience that deserves to be seen on the big screen, but definitely should be rewatched for many years and generations to come at home with friends and family.
9/10 ‘A Silent Voice’ is in cinemas from 15th March.