A Silent Voice: A Movie Review

Individuals with disabilities face both physical, social and communication barriers which can restrict their access to services or employment. This, in turn, prevents them from enjoying their rights. Stigma and discrimination affect almost all aspects of lives of persons with disabilities and marginalised groups. Students with disabilities face difficult challenges at school and when they are bullied, it could directly impact their ability to learn. The movie, A Silent Voice, tries to elucidate the issue of bullying. This anime movie might seem like a typical high school romance drama, but it’s more than that. Based on Yoshitoki Oima’s multiple award winning manga series, Koe no Katachi, ‘A Silent Voice’ is about a boy named Shoya Ishida, who, along with his friends, bully a deaf female classmate, Shoko Nishimiya. Directed by Naoko Yamada, this movie addresses the difficult concepts and challenges that students still face in many countries, for instance bullying, disability, friendship, isolation, self-doubt, guilt and suicide. While these issues are discussed in the movie, the spotlight, however, is on bullying and suicide, as they both go hand-in-hand. The psychological trauma or distress caused by bullying eventually, and sometimes inevitably, drives the victim to commit suicide.  


The story follows Shoya Ishida, a reserved and detached teenage boy, who tries to jump off a bridge in the beginning of the movie. It is through flashbacks that we find out what pushed him towards suicide. In his elementary school, he is seen terrorizing a new student, Shoko Nishimiya, by ripping out her hearing aids, hitting her and attacking her. His friends: Ueno, who is cunning and wicked in her approach and Kawai, who acts as a bystander with her passive bullying and constant blame game; together represent the involvement of many of their classmates. Yet, when the teachers found out about the bullying, Shoya was the one who was blamed for it all. Now, in high school, he tries to atone for the abuse he inflicted on Shoko, as he was unable to get rid of the bully title, becoming an outcast. He tries to get in touch with Shoko, hoping that she would forgive him. Wanting to communicate with her, and show his genuineness, Shoya learns sign language to apologize. However, communication between them is not easy or simple, no matter how mindful Shoya gets, as the traumatization they both went through seems to leave permanent wounds. 


Bullying is a complex, omnipresent and possibly destructive form of violence. It could be both physical or verbal or both, relational and cyber. It is and always has affected almost every school. Although this movie talks about bullying at school, it is not limited or confined to just that. Bullying can be noticed in nearly every organisation or community, it happens when a person who has an upper hand abuses their power in an intentional repetitive and aggressive manner. Countless people have been traumatized by this and may find it difficult to overcome it later in life. We come across many incidents on how bullying has caused students to take drastic measures just to stop the pain they were feeling. Bullying or any form of psychological abuse has long lasting effects. 


For Shoya, from bullying to being bullied causes a change within him and he struggles to cope with his childish behaviours, and this is what causes him to seek out forgiveness. The film attempts to put emphasis on both, the way Shoko was treated as well as the psychological self-punishment Shoya puts himself through. Due to the discrimination Shoko faces in the ableist world, she is made to feel like a burden because of which she begins to hate herself. Although the film focuses on disability, among many other issues, it unfortunately fails to provide proper representation. While the consequences of the actions and behaviour of others towards her are shown, we learn little to nothing about Shoko herself. Shoko’s deafness is shown as her personality in this movie, instead of it being a part of her. This is where the film industry fails when it comes to the representation of any form of disability. While watching the movie, some might think as to why Shoko just doesn’t transfer to a different school, but here’s the thing, the fault is not in her, rather in the environment around her. Her disability doesn’t make her a less of a person, it does not lessen her intellect or her ability to learn. When a person has a disability, the society forces them into a box and makes it their whole identity, whether they want to or not. 


In this film, we also see how culture plays a strong role in a person’s life. Even though Shoko was bullied and abused, she stays humble, kind and apologizes constantly, even when she is not at fault. Culture influences how a person behaves or how people are treated by society. For example, Shoko, since her culture dictates that she needs to be humble and kind to everyone, she strives to be that in spite of being the victim here. In many cultures disability is regarded as a burden and is seen as nothing more than a weakness or a problem. They are sometimes shunned for being different and are given no respect. Apart from being snubbed by the society, many disabled folks don’t get support from their families. They are regarded as “good-for-nothing” or “broken”. They are neither. Yes, Shoko was different because of her disability but that is not all she is. She is a person who feels, who enjoys learning, who wants to make friends and have fun with them just like every other child. Her disability is not her identity, it’s simply a part of who she is. 


Bullying doesn’t just affect the ones who are bullied, it also affects the ones who bully and the ones who are witnessing it. The movie shows that Shoya realises and regrets his actions and tries to change himself but in reality many bullies are like Ueno, they are in denial. They don’t believe that they have done something wrong. When a child lives in a household where their negative behaviour is rewarded, they start to believe that that behaviour is good. In Shoya’s case, it was quite evident that he was not receiving the attention he required at home since he was being raised by a single mom who was doing her best to provide for her family. Since she was constantly busy, she wasn’t able to spend time with Shoya. So when he started bullying Shoko, he was rewarded by the attention of his classmates. This reinforced his negative behaviour. The ones who bully, the ones who are bullied and the bystanders are all the victims of the rotten system that society lives by. The ones who bully are simply acting out as they are not receiving the attention they require from the right place. The ones who are bullied don’t speak up fearing that it’ll worsen the situation. The bystanders or the witnesses don’t speak up as they fear that they too might be bullied. This experience causes students/children to become overwhelmed, anxious, scared and/or depressed. Which in turn leads them into taking drastic steps when it gets too much for them to handle, emotionally and psychologically. 


There are many ways in which parents, teachers and students can take actions to prevent bullying. At Pause for Perspective, we believe that the ableist, patriarchal, binary, cis-het system that we live in is responsible for the way an individual acts. We try to find the issue in the environment. We have experienced professionals who have worked with children as well as adults to help them navigate through their tough times. The movie tries to honestly portray the way adolescents act around people who are different from them or from society’s definition of “normal”. 


Written by 

Insha Fatima 

Writer at Pause for Perspective.