No, it’s not a Ghibli film, nor is it a Makoto Shinkai creation.
But that doesn’t make “Koe no Katachi” any less appealing to watch.
Based on the manga by Yoshitoki Ōima of the same name, “Koe no Katachi” (literally “The Shape of Voice”) follows the story of Shoya Ishida, a former elementary school bully who, together with his friends, picked on their deaf classmate Shoko Nishimiya. Due to excessive bullying and assault, Nishimiya was forced to transfer schools and the blame for which was put on Ishida, making everyone — his teachers, classmates and friends — turn against him.
The consequences of Ishida’s actions follow him into High School where he isolates himself and even contemplates suicide. But when he reunites with Nishimiya, they both begin their journey to complete healing and forgiveness.
The film had its theatrical release in Japan back in September 2016 and has since then garnered major awards including Tokyo Anime Award Festival 2017 Anime of the Year (Film Category), 40th Japan Academy Prize for Excellent Animation of the Year, and 26th Japan Movie Critics Awards for Best Animation of the Year.
If you have yet to drive to the nearest theater to catch the film which Makoto Shinkai himself referred to as a polished and grand piece of work that even he is unable to replicate, here are 8 reasons why you should.
The visuals perfectly communicate the character’s feelings
Koe no Katachi’s art style isn’t as detail-rich as the more popular Ghibli films and Shinkai’s blockbuster hit “Kimi no Na wa” (“Your Name”), but that only makes the film feel more real and relatable.
Even through simple visuals, we can see through Ishida’s eyes and understand his loneliness and anxiety. “X” marks cover the faces of the people around him whom he either distances himself from or whom he has difficulty interacting with. Certain shots focus on different parts of the body too, whenever he’s conversing with someone — hands wringing together, feet scuffing in nervousness — to imitate his eyes that have difficulty looking directly at someone else’s. When he finally connects with someone, the “X” mark peels off and falls to the ground like a flimsy poster to reveal the person’s face. These little details speak volumes without being so overwhelming onscreen.
It tackles physical disability without glorifying it
Nishimiya is portrayed in the film as a deaf girl who communicates with the people around her through sign language (and the occasional slurred spoken word or two). That’s brownie points for representing the deaf community already! But another thing worth pointing out is that her disability isn’t at all romanticized in the film; she didn’t have to “learn how to cope” with her disability because of a knight in shining armor who would “change her outlook on life.” The film showed what deaf people experience in real life — not one bit glossed over.
It doesn’t focus on romance
Sure, the trailer above included a scene where Nishimiya confessed her crush on Ishida which totally went over the latter’s head. But the film didn’t revolve its plot around the blossoming of a relationship in the romantic sense. Once you’ve seen the big picture, that specific detail actually becomes a bit insignificant. And although you know there’s an unspoken something going on between Nishimiya and Ishida, it doesn’t steal the thunder from the real takeaway the film is trying to get across.
It opens up discussions about bullying in Japan…
The bullying situation in Japanese schools is quite notorious. While we’re gritting our teeth over the lack of intervention by classmates and teachers when Ishida and his posse kept blatantly harassing Nishimiya, we should also be concerned that something that extreme does happen in real life.
Because local culture has always encouraged its citizens to conform to society, standing out or not being able to “read the vibe” of a group can automatically get you ostracized. This is most evident in schools. According to The Economist’s interview with Mitsuru Taki of the Ministry of Education, “most cases involve a big portion of a class inflicting insistent psychological (and occasionally physical) torment on a single victim.” Bullying was never one-on-one; it was a “group phenomenon.”
And just like Ishida’s homeroom teacher, the teachers of Japanese schools are rarely hands-on during conflict; some would even take part in it.
After the Anti-Bullying Law was passed in 2013, thousands of students came forward with their complaints. Still, not much has been done about it; not a lot of people outside of Japan are even aware of this issue. “Koe no Katachi” therefore is a heroic effort in opening up discussions regarding the subject.
…and its long term impact
Bullying is still the leading cause of suicide among Japanese teenagers. Ishida himself suffered a great deal of stress from being ostracized by his peers and it haunted him for years. His attitude and behavior changed completely since then; he wasn’t as boisterous and sociable as before. He also has a hard time trusting people again. Nishimiya, most especially, had to deal with the trauma of being bullied because of her physical disability.
The film takes care not to censor these consequences of bullying and it effectively reminds us just how bad they can be.
It doesn’t need elements of fantasy to be a success
As previously mentioned, “Koe no Katachi” becomes more real and relatable by doing away with any hint of fantasy or sci-fi that’s expected from anime. It builds a connection with the audience through the depiction of genuine emotions, and of struggles and circumstances that they can empathize with. We don’t view Ishida, Nishimiya and the others as mere characters in a film, but rather as humans who understand us.
Fantasy films can’t always make that kind of connection. “Koe no Katachi” is solid proof that an anime movie doesn’t need characters who possess magical abilities or undergo otherworldly experiences to make people fall in love with it.
It inspires empathy among people with differences
In a country whose society has difficulty accepting people who stick out like sore thumbs, it becomes all the more necessary to teach empathy for those who are unlike us. Whether it’s learning how to use sign language to better converse with someone who’s deaf, or understanding why a person feels so hostile towards someone who doesn’t know what they did wrong — it’s the little things you can do to help a person feel accepted and understood.
It teaches us the best way to heal
“Koe no Katachi” shows us that the journey to healing begins with a choice.
It’s in choosing to forgive those who’ve wronged you, choosing to reconcile with those you’ve wronged, choosing to let others help you patch up your wounds.
Ishida told Nishimiya towards the end of the trailer (and the movie), “I want you to help me live.” He wasn’t depending on someone else to save him from his darkness, but rather, he was trying to open himself up again and put his faith back into the people who care for him. It may not be an instantaneous thing for him to do, but the fact that he willingly chose to do so already gives him a head start to a new beginning.
Have you watched Koe no Katachi yet? Share with us your thoughts about the movie below!