This Japanese anime film is based on a manga comic of the same name written by Yoshitoki Oima. The film won the Grand Prize at the 2017 Tokyo Anime Award Festival for the Best Anime Film of the year. It tells the story of a boy, Shoya Ishida (voiced initially by Miyu Irino, and later by Mayu Matsuoka), who bullies a girl, Shoko Nishimiya (voiced by Saori Hayami), at his school because she is deaf. Her inability to hear people irritates him immensely.
Ishida’s bullying causes Nishimiya to transfer to another school and he is rejected by his friends for his behaviour. Ishida suddenly finds he has no friends, and no one to speak to. Slipping into depression, he contemplates suicide, and is plagued with guilt about his treatment of Nishimiya.
Six years later, he renews contact with Nishimiya and tries to make amends. He realises that her shyness makes her as lonely as he feels. He tries to redeem himself by connecting Nishimiya with old classmates, even those who joined him in his bullying behaviour. Together, Nishimiya and Ishida embark on a series of interactions that establish positive relationships with the people they both knew at school, and in doing so, they redefine their friendship with each other.
In fantasy format, this film tackles an extraordinary variety of emotional issues. It explores bullying and its social-psychological consequences; it looks at the difficulties young people experience when they try to connect with friends and companions; and it touches (two times) on teenage suicide. This is a movie that is also about a slowly developing romantic relationship between Ishida and Nishimiya, and it handles their evolving friendship with hope and understanding.
The film uses finely-lined imagery with vivid colours, and its main messages are delivered from the perspective of its two main characters: Nishimiya and Ishida. We learn from both something of the nature of a person who bullies, and the nature of the person who is being bullied. Humour is provided to balance viewers’ reactions, but it is the breaking and making of relationships that lie at the heart of the film.
The film’s animation is characteristically Japanese. The movie is steeped in the traditions of Japanese culture, and its images convey cultural characteristics almost at every turn. Different Japanese studios have given us films like “The Red Turtle”, and “Khubo and the Two Strings”, both of which were nominated for an Hollywood Oscar in the 2017 Awards. The Japanese use of line, colour, and image-contrast is not as evident in this film as in the two films just mentioned, but they are present.
The film’s musical soundtrack uses soft piano, mellow music, and singing voices to reinforce its messages in contemporary-looking fashion. The film itself has three main themes: the meaning of friendship, the importance of human acceptance, the complexities of a developing emotional attachment, and the dynamics of bullying. The film treats all these issues with very serious moral intent – perhaps, by the fantasy format allowing the viewer’s imagination to personally process moral and social themes in a more unrestricted way. An unusual feature of this movie is that the serious human issues the movie addresses are treated explicitly, rather than implicitly, and the movie’s script reinforces the movie’s complex moral messages very pointedly.
This is a quality animated movie that explores moral issues in anime style, and it insightfully analyses the features of teenage cruelty and disability in a visually interesting and non-judgemental way. While ultimately lacking the smoothly sophisticated craft of Studio Ghibli Productions, like “The Red Turtle”, it tells its story forcefully and imaginatively with strong, moral intent.
Review by the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting