Makoto Shinkai, Your Name’s director, has described Koe no Katachi (The Shape Of Voice) as “too cool”. Can this tale of disabilities, school bullying, friendships and growing live up to such a high praise?
Opening the film a song from The Who, My Generation, is either an act of supreme confidence or extreme folly. Fortunately, Naoka Yamada’s Koe no Katachi more than manages to live up to the promise set in those opening minutes (add in Shinkai’s praise).
Koe no Katachi: Kids Can Be Quite Cruel To One Another
Shoya Ishida’s less complicated life becomes a lot more confusing when a deaf girl, Shoko Nishimiya, joins them in his elementary school class. It’s not long before his curiosity, and that of his classmates, turns into something nasty. When Nishimiya eventually transferred to another school, the blame for bullying her falls squarely on Ishida’s shoulders.
It may not be entirely fair to say the least, but he’s not completely innocent as well. The consequences of his actions will reverberate through all of their lives for the years to come. Until Ishida runs into Nishimiya again 5 years later…
What could have been a very creepy tale of bully seeking redemption manages to be something else. There’s the beautiful animation to thank for that fact. In addition, there’s also the strong characterization factor and the interesting directorial choices. Plus, the great music and a cast and plot that are, nonetheless, engaging and almost constantly surprising.
The Former Bully That Is Shoya Ishida
For a former bully, Ishida is easier to empathize with than you’d perceive. The few years since elementary school had been incredibly isolating and depressing for him, to the point that he’d given up on hanging with friends or making new ones. I know the feeling really, but I was never the bully back in the day. Back in the day, I was like Shoko and people were bullying me. That’s something we don’t need to talk about here.
Just as you sympathize with him however, the film jumps back in time to show you just how bad his behavior towards Nishimiya was (along with the rest of his classmates). It’s a nuanced approach that’s taken with all of the characters around both Nishimiya and Ishida. There’s far more to the stereotypical “mean girl”, “smart girl” and “nice girl” than first appears. However, they’re also true for those stereotypes, for their own reasons anyway.
There’s No Such Thing As Recess In Koe No Katachi
The plot of the movie may sound like other high school anime or anime movies out there. However, the strong characterization, avoidance of easy solutions to problems and a lot of unexpected turns elevate it beyond that.
It helps that the film is attractive to the viewer’s eye. The animation is of top-quality but it’s matched by some very interesting selections in setting and framing. With Ishida too ahamed to look people in the eye, there were a ton of shots of people’s feet or the sky.
It happens so often that it becomes almost a visual shorthand for the audience to understand character’s feelings. Almost more than any dialogue ever could. There’s also a crystal clear visual treatment which showcases just how open or closed Ishida is to the people around him at any time.
Final Thoughts on Koe no Katachi
Accompanying the visuals is an absolutely fantastic score. It’s not quite as poppy as the RADWIMPS soundtrack to Your Name. However, the soft piano and orchestral score really suits Koe no Katachi’s story of intense ups and downs.
The only real downside to the film is that it’s very much Ishida’s story. You never really get a feel for Nishimiya’s character outside some plot points. I mean, we never got to know how she became deaf in the first place. Plus, it doesn’t detract from the film too much. But it would have been nice to see more of the story, and the experience of growing up deaf in Japan from her point of view.
Overall, Koe no Katachi is another masterpiece that you should definitely watch. It will really hit you hard in the feels. I know. I’ve cried the first time I’ve watched it.