Using The Who’s ‘My Generation’ in a film feels like a bit of a cop-out doesn’t it? Few songs have that level of iconic status; it’s up there with the pantheon of great songs about teenage rebellion. Using that song of all songs to accompany the opening credits? Now you’re really playing it safe, clearly this is going to be uplifting, crowd-pleasing fluff! Or is it..? After watching A Silent Voice, there’s a need to reconsider the lyrics of ‘My Generation’ and all the hints of what is to come within the film are clear.

‘I hope I die before I get old’ and ‘I hope they all just fade away’. These two lines of lyrics possess the level of infamy that the song itself is instantaneously recognisable – we all sing along when it plays on the radio and even your granny will bop around to it at family gatherings. It’s easy to forget the potency of a song which has been part of our collective consciousness for 52 years.  The song was written as an act of distilled rebellion, a battlecry for the disaffected and an anthem for doomed youth. It’s really quite perfectly chosen to announce and then accompany this truly beautiful movie.

A Silent Voice is about two disenfranchised teens. There’s Nishimiya Shoko (Saori Hayami), who has just started at a new school and is worried about how they will respond to her hearing impairment, and Ishida Shouya (Miyu Irino), one of the students who proceeds to bully her mercilessly. A chunk of the film is dedicated to this – the class’s campaign of terror increases, and Ishida seems unwavering in his vindictive reign of terror. Nishimiya can take it no longer and moves schools. The fallout lands solely on Isida who then, in a rather karmic move, experiences the same ostracisation and bullying he himself inflicted. This continues for years – he remains friendless, unable to talk to anyone, and without plans for the future. He’s desperate for redemption, or a way-out.

All of this is handled so wonderfully and with such care. It’s refreshing to see an anime handle such emotive issues as mental health, bullying and suicide. As we watch the young Ishida bully Nishimiya for no other reason than being different than him it’s hard to find any reason to redeem him – surely he deserves everything he gets? But, as we begin to follow him years later in the present day, we quickly see how far-felt and devastating the consequences of his actions have been. He’s consumed by self-loathing and anxiety, distrustful of all around him and scared of human contact. This is masterfully shown through the technique pictured below – the crosses mark out the threats and ‘not-to-be-approached’ people in Ishida’s life – which happens to be everyone but his mum and his niece.

The film subtly explores the nature of bullying, consequences and forgiveness through the choices we observe Ishida facing. Friendship begins to enter his life, but will he be able to accept it? Will he forgive himself and let those around him forgive him? How long must he ‘bear the sins and be punished’? Ishida is forced to address all these issues when he instigates a reunion with Nishimiya, certain in the knowledge that he can no longer keep living in self-inflicted, enforced social exile. He’s desperate for escape. Some of the most moving moments of the film are when we fully release just how desperate hidden suffering can make a person. Ishida and Nishimiya’s reunion leads to an unexpected friendship of sorts, littered with both pathos and lots of humour as they try to heal from their past.  As the film says, ‘friendship lies somewhere between words and logic.’ The recurring motifs of both fireworks and blossom perfectly illustrate this – both provide beauty, symbolise joy and burn brightly, but are short lived and wilt away.

This undoubtedly personifies the horrendousness of adolescence, and how the most silent of voices could be hiding the most pain. To – rather clumsily perhaps – return back to where we started and ‘My Generation’ – the film and its characters are not trying to ’cause a big sensation.’ Instead they are trying to become whole before they ‘fade away.’  This is a film for those who feel lost on their journey, afraid of the big and scary world they are being forced to enter, haunted by their all to recent past to move forward with their present. What could be more universal than that?

Dir: Naoko Yamada
Scr: Yoshitoki Oima & Reiko Yoshida
Cast: Miyu Irino, Saori Hayami, Aoi Yuki, Kenshô Ono, Yûki Kaneko.
Prd: Futoshi Nishiya
DOP: Kazuya Takao
Music: Yôta Tsuruoka
Country: Japan
Year: 2017
Run time: 129 minutes

A Silent Voice is in UK cinemas from March 15th 2017.

By Charlotte Harrison

Secondary school teacher by day, writer of all things film by night. All round superhero 24/7.