Feb 1, 2019
Duckielover151 (All reviews)
This movie was beautiful to me in a lot of ways, and I don’t just mean in terms of representation. It was billed to me as the movie about bullying with the deaf protagonist—and those things are true—but I definitely wasn’t aware going into it that both main characters are suicidal by the time this movie starts. I felt it was just as much about depression—even if that depression was caused by bullying—and one of those artsy, beautiful things that I really liked was the way they depicted how Shoya views the world once he’s lost his ability to connect with others.

Shoya himself was probably the strongest point of this movie for me. The depictions of bullying in all stages of childhood felt very genuine to me. I could look at both the instigators and the kids who just went along with it for their various reasons and relate them back to real kids that I knew throughout my own childhood. Shoya was a(n unfortunately) typical little boy—insensitive just because he’d never been exposed to something like deafness before.

But I think the really striking thing about his character is how much he’s changed by the time we see him as a teenager. After everyone turns on him, he grows into a very… thoughtful human being. Not that this mindset should be entirely applauded. A lot of it is the depression talking: he’s really started to believe that the entire thing was his fault. Which is also not to say that he wasn’t in the wrong. There’s just a balance he hasn’t quite reached between accepting your own flaws and understanding when you’re being too hard on yourself to allow yourself to change. This whole movie is really about finding that balance, as we see echoed through a lot of the other characters. Miki in particular was one who annoyed me but felt very real. She was one of the ones who may have scolded the others for making fun of Shoko a few times, but it never stopped her from laughing along with them. Now, as a teenager, she’s the quickest to deny any involvement, wanting to be seen as a better person than the rest of the group. It’s something we see in a lot of the older characters: They understand now that they were wrong but aren’t yet in a place where they can confront their own flaws. Shoya’s trying to find the middle ground from the other direction. He’s all too willing to believe that anything bad that happens around him is probably his fault too, which leads to him being very understanding of everyone around him, even the people who don’t deserve it. Shoya’s personal journey of learning to open himself back up to the world was really moving to me. That final scene gave me chills.

Honestly, I never got quite as attached to Shoko. In a lot of ways, she and Shoya are on the same journey. I don’t mean to reduce her to nothing more than her deafness, but when her personal story is basically already being told (in a way that felt more compelling to me, if only because Shoya’s the one telling the story) that’s kind of what’s left, and the movie’s representation of a deaf character tended to be what I was most interested in when Shoko was on screen. I’m not deaf myself, and I haven’t had any extensive experience interacting with deaf people. By my sister is majoring in sign language and interpreting, and I’ve taken a few ASL classes myself. Not that it helped me with any of the Japanese sign language in this film, but a big focus in the class was always on the social aspect of being deaf and what’s considered rude when speaking to a deaf person, what it’s actually like to try and ‘hear’ through a cochlear implant, or just to live without sound entirely. And there were a lot of scenes in the movie that I really liked where they really accentuated the sounds Shoko would have been able to feel—like the kids running their fingers across the bars while she’s on the jungle gym. It showed an awareness that’s really crucial to a movie like this.

Unfortunately, it’s also where things start to go downhill. There were quite a few flaws that took a hit at my suspension of disbelief. Some of them were minor—like when Shoya woke up from his coma and was able to immediately unhook himself from his tubes and wires and stagger out of the hospital without anybody stopping him. (You’re telling me a boy with recent suicidal history wasn’t hooked up to anything that would bring nurses running when he woke up?) But the bigger one—from the very beginning—was that I find it really hard to believe Shoko didn’t have any kind of interpreter in the classroom with her. Even with her hearing aids, it was clear she couldn’t follow along with the teacher’s instruction.
The biggest problem I had, however, was with the way it handled the outcome of the bullying. I didn’t totally buy the way they all came back together at the end. It felt like they’d intended for there to be some bigger, overarching message about bullying and why people sometimes act in despicable ways… but like they never quite got to it. I was approached by two other fans in the theater afterwards who’d read the manga and said a lot had been left out and, as I am planning to read it anyway, I hope that’s one of them. But as far as the movie goes as a standalone work, it just wasn’t conclusive enough for me.

I would hate to leave a review for a movie that I gave an almost perfect rating to on a bad note. It really was beautiful. I seriously considered giving it a 10, which I reserve for very few anime and manga that have special meaning to me. In the end, there were a few too many flaws that I couldn’t overlook, but I definitely plan to buy this movie whenever it finally comes out in the US, and if you get a chance to see it, you should.