I doubt there are many who haven’t heard of this one. Lucky for me, AnimeLab added it for just one week which gave me a chance to see this much talked about film. Focusing on Ishida, a teenager who in primary school bullied Nishimiya who was deaf and later found himself the target of bullying, the story looks at his life as he tries to find a way to live with himself or to atone for his past acts.
There was no going into this movie blind. The sheer number of reviews and articles about this anime that have been flung about the internet made that an impossibility. The fact that so many of those were positive set the bar for this movie incredibly high particularly in how it was going to depict disability and bullying. And for the most part, the movie delivers on these aspects phenomenally well. At least, it delivers a recognisable form of both the struggle with hearing impairment and the social aspects of school and life that sometimes fall apart by people not really thinking through their actions.
The movie is also beautifully constructed. Scenery is almost always flawless and the characters are distinct enough while still mostly being fairly generic school students. The use of the purple crosses to demonstrate Ishida’s disconnect from others and his social isolation was integrated well and used with consistency and purpose. All and all, it is a well put together movie from a visual point of view.
Even though many of the characters are unlikable, that isn’t a drawback to this film. For the most part they are supposed to be. They show us the selfish nature people have and how, even when their actions harms others, they still choose the path that gives them the most satisfaction. Even Nishimiya doesn’t come off as the saint being bullied and abandoned. Her flaws as a character are on display giving us a rare look at bullying that doesn’t paint an innocent victim but presents a situation that no one really likes but no one really knows how to stop or feels really compelled to act differently. Even when the bullying is exposed in primary school, all that does for most of the class is shift the target to Ishida and later on claim innocence.
And with that in mind, this isn’t exactly a relaxing viewing experience. Despite the soft pastel colour scheme, this movie is hitting hard at social issues and it isn’t point the finger at one cause or perpetrator but rather is painting the entire social construct as complicit with allowing such situations to exist and to continue. Victim, perpetrator, by-stander, parent, teacher, school… everyone is shown to have contributed to the situation and the solution in the 6th grade is no solution as all of these characters are still carrying around the weight of the events many years later which ultimately lead the two characters at the centre of the story to the understanding that they hate themselves.
Ishida attempts suicide at the very start of the movie and it is only after that, and the confrontation by his mother and a rather dramatic (if slightly stupid) burning of some money, that he begins his journey toward looking for atonement or even just a reason to continue living. And he seeks this out by meeting with Nishimiya, who understandably has a fairly mixed reaction to seeing the face of the boy who bullied her so mercilessly again. Despite the progress made throughout the story and the other characters who also come on-board to deal with their own baggage, Nishimiya ultimately also tries to take her own life.
It is a dramatic story and one that hits hard. It brings the consequences of seemingly ‘innocent’ actions to the forefront and makes you think through the reality that other people might be living due to your words and behaviours. And if the movie had ended on that note I would actually claim this movie was an absolute masterpiece.
And yet, the story continues and leads us by the hand through a redemption sequence and ultimately tries to set up a happily ever after which might make people feel better about what they just watched but kind of shoots the film’s powerful messages and early statements in the foot. While it is lovely these characters get a happy ending, kind of, the far more powerful story is ultimately down-played because of it. While I don’t actually think the suicide should have been successful, leaving us wondering what happened next or seeing just the immediate fall out of the incident where the characters finally feel the full weight of their actions, would have been a much more powerful ending.
Still, it is a minor criticism and the movie still packs quite a punch. I’m really glad I had the chance to see it and if you haven’t seen it yet, I certainly recommend checking it out.
Thanks for reading.
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