What They Say:
A deaf elementary school girl named Shoko Nishimiya transfers to a new school and meets a boy named Shoya Ishida. Shoya leads the school in bullying Shoko over her disability until she transfers to another school. Immediately, the class bully Shoya for having bullied Shoko. Shoya loses contact with Shoko, and for years he suffers the consequences of his guilt. Upon entering high school, Shoya finally decides he must find Shoko, determined to make amends for what he did in elementary school and to become Shoko’s friend. Along the way, he meets new and old faces, and struggles with many complicated relationships and feelings.
The audio presentation for this film brings us the original Japanese language with its 5.1 theatrical mix along with the English language dub which gets the same treatment. Both tracks are encoded using the DTS-HD MA lossless codec and come across very well here even if it is mostly a dialogue driven work. There are a few moments where things swell and the music really takes center stage but it’s a film that works in the quieter spaces, with the incidental sounds and the music building things up with the tension and emotion of the moment. It’s a well-produced mix for both tracks that allows the performances to stand out and the emotions of the actors to really shine in a way that a lot of productions don’t have to worry about too much. The score is a solid one throughout and it uses the mix well and the theme songs hit some good notes that makes them a warm and rich experience. We didn’t have any issues with dropouts or distortions during regular playback and enjoyed listening to both mixes.
Originally released in 2016, the transfer for this film is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 in 1080p using the AVC codec. There’s little to the disc outside of the film itself so it has plenty of room to work with. Animated by Kyoto Animation, the visual design for this is about as good as you’d expect while adhering to some of the design elements of the source material. This isn’t a big lush production in the traditional Kyoto Animation sense but one that brings the world to life beautifully with its details that look strong and appealing colors that aren’t overly warm and lush. There’s a bit of a cooler color tone to some of this that definitely feels appropriate but it has a lot of beauty to it as well. The character details look great with what’s put into it for hair design and costume design while the world they inhabit has a very lived-in feeling that gives it a strong sense of here and now without dating it too much. The encoding gives us some great looking material here with clean and solid colors and no visible breakup in the backgrounds with all of the details present there, making for a very engaging experience.
The packaging for this release comes in a standard sized Blu-ray case that holds the two discs and has an o-card slipcover for it. The o-card replicates the case artwork but the color definition is better, brighter, and feels a little richer with how it comes across. The front cover works with the main key visual used to promote the film for most of its run with everyone together outside and a kind of positive image for Ishida to work with in how he’s presented. It’s not my favorite poster piece but it works well enough to show off the designs and general look of the film. The back cover goes for a soft white and pink background dominating it with the sakura blossoms that has the summary of the premise along the top. We get the other main visual spread across the center and a number of decent shots from the film just below it. The extras are clearly listed while the bottom plays to traditional movie breakdowns in credits and the technical details in non-grid form. No show related inserts are included but we do get a nice location background visual for the reverse side cover.
The menu design for this release goes with the static image approach that isn’t a bad thing and probably a good choice in general for this film. The general idea is an expanded reworking of the front cover design and I like how it feels like it has more room to breathe in terms of the background, giving it a proper wider view that’s very appealing. The cast are all still tucked together so it feels a bit denser there than it should and it’s an odd combination but it works well enough. The navigation along the bottom is pretty standard without too much thematic included, just a pop of color along the sides. It works well both as the main menu and as the pop-up menu during regular playback with no issues.
The extras are pretty basic for this as we get some of the Japanese promotional materials alongside a pair of music videos. They’re not bad and are welcome inclusions but it felt like there should have been something more to this, even if just on the dub side and something related to bullying in general.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
This was a long time in coming. The film received a lot of attention prior to its release in 2016 and then got a decent theatrical release for its content in North American theaters in 2017 while also showing up in a lot of other places. But it took until early 2019 for it to finally get a home video release, almost two years after the Japanese release, and with it being a film it had a very limited role in getting out into the audience since theatrical releases are still pretty limited. I’ve been reading and writing about this film for what feels like five years now and have finally been able to see it, so there is admittedly some small anticlimactic feeling about it. That’s no fault of the film, of course, as it’s a very solid and engaging piece. But that little issue of hearing about it for so long makes it hard to really be as all that as you hear about.
The film is based on the manga Koe no Katachi, which translates as The Shape of the Voice, which ran for seven volumes in 2013 and 2014 from Yoshitoki Oima in Weekly Shonen Magazine. It saw a solid released in English through Kodansha Comics so there was some built-in audience right from there as the manga was pretty well praised. It also had a lot of interest from the anime fan side as Kyoto Animation served as the production company with Naoko Yamada directing it. Yamada was a solid choice for it after working on projects like K-On and Tamako Market and has a solid affinity for film more than TV I think in terms of working with a larger template. But you can also see the usefulness in knowing how to take an expanded work and try to get as much as you can from that into a single film, even one that runs just over two hours which in itself feels like a bit of a surprise.
And this film really does go through a lot of material, too much so I think in the second half, but we don’t get a traditional film structure here with the usual three acts. We get something that looks at aspects of young lives and how badly things can go. It revolves around several characters but starting with Shoya in elementary school I believe, he and several others end up taking their boredom and indifference out on a new student arrival, Shoko, who was deaf. The kids are mean and destructive, to the point where they get called out on it eventually because Shoko’s mother claims upwards of eight hearing aids have been destroyed and those things are expensive. This has the principal using an authoritative voice to really lay into them and Shoya kind of admits to things while pushing back on it, while at the same time calling out those that bullied her just as much as he did as it was often done as a group.
While Shoko ends up transferring out not long after this, the focus turns onto Shoya, unsurprisingly. His calling out those that did what he was doing obviously would face retaliation and he ends up sliding into a kind of acceptance of it, a penance for what he did but also just something that hit more as a sullen teenager and all the emotions and hormones create this reinforcing feeling. What was interesting was how this was displayed visually as time went on as we see him as a high school student later on and he’s not looking at people, keeping his head down, sullen and all that. Those that ostracized him, which was pretty much everyone, has a large X across their face. They don’t see him as anything and he doesn’t recognize them as people, just tormentors, and this allows him to protect himself. But as time goes on and he makes a couple of friends that weren’t part of events prior, we see him trying to make amends more and those X’s coming away in a lightly dramatic way that feels appropriate. It’s a creative interpretation in a medium that allows for it but rarely does so because there’s safety in the way such things are usually covered.
The film works best when it explores these incidents when Shoya and the rest are younger and how it impacts people and the way it turns on Shoya himself. Framing that with the opening where we see him going to commit suicide fills in things easily enough. And I liked when he started to make friends, especially with someone like Nagatsuka, as it’s someone that can see the good that is in him and that he has done the penance for things to some degree. But the pre-suicide attempt area is complicated as we see the high school period with some of them in different schools, some still intent on bullying or simply being mean toward Shoko when she re-enters their lives, and of mixed feelings in how to deal with Shoya himself.
And in the midst of all of this we get Shoya trying to do what’s right, to make amends in some form for what happened. In the eyes of some he can never do anything right to fix things. And there’s truth to that in the permanent scars to it. And some of what happened to Shoko is part of the cultural aspects of Japanese society as well where those that aren’t part of the community in the same way get shunned or treated poorly in an effort to get them to leave. These are learned traits, however, and they’re no less hurtful in the end. If anything, even as good as everything does turn out, I wish we had more time with Shoko’s story and for her to feel like she was more prominent. It’s more Shoya’s story, which is fine, but I would have liked to have seen things evened up a bit more.
I enjoyed A Silent Voice about as much as you can “enjoy” a film like this because it is complicated material. There’s a lot to explore here and the film packs in more than it can really deal with but it doesn’t shy away from the really difficult stuff as it makes the pain clearly felt and realized. I found myself wishing it spent more time on when they were younger, more time with Shoko, and more on Shoya’s ostracization on both sides of the equation. There’s a lot to sink your teeth into and both tracks give strong performances from the cast as they work from beautiful visuals to really put you into this place, situation, and the emotions that it creates. It’s a very good looking release that’s lighter on extras than I would have cared for, but for those that simply want this film this is a very solid release.
Japanese DTS-HD MA 5.1 Language, English DTS-HD MA 5.1 Language, English Subtitles, Japanese Promos, Music Videos
Content Grade: B+
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: A-
Packaging Grade: B+
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: B-
Released By: Shout! Factory
Release Date: April 2nd, 2019
Running Time: 130 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen
Sony KDL70R550A 70″ LED 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.