A Silent Voice Probes the Effects of Teenage Bullying Briskly with Mixed Results

TL;DR: While it may provide insightful commentary on the effects of teenage bullying, the amount of plot it has to unspool somewhat undercuts its intentions.

The latest anime movie to reach Philippine shores isn’t the straightforward romantic melodrama its local poster suggests. This is a movie attuned to the complexities of teenage friendships, the effects of bullying, & the struggles of the hearing impaired. It may not be the adorable tearjerker people are expecting, but it is a more rewarding watch.

Adapted from an award-winning manga, it tells the story of Shoya Ishida, a young boy who bullied Shoko Nishimiya, a deaf girl who just transferred into their school, alongside his friends to various degrees when he was in elementary. But when he ended up ratting out his behavior towards his friends, he becomes ostracized & bullied as well. Now that he’s in high school, he’s still an outcast. The pain & loneliness he feels causes him to make amends to his mother he troubled her when he was a kid & to apologize to Shoko before he commits suicide. However, when his plan fell apart, he decides to befriend her anyway, causing the people around Shoya & Shoko to explore what happened in the past in order to move forward.

The movie deals with heavy themes, but it’s neither soapy nor miserablist in the slightest. It’s a languid, tranquil movie intent on capturing the smallest details to create the biggest emotional impact; often using unbalanced compositions to emphasize the character’s isolation from his/her environment. Since this is made by Kyoto Animation, this is brought to life with beautiful, realistic backgrounds full of bright colors. The characters are animated with less realism, opting to emphasize their emotions. Whenever these characters smile, cry or just feel something, you can watch every movement of their face & body. Their eyes widen with glee, their bodies tremble when they are shaken & you can even see their teardrops falling from their eyes in such ridiculous detail.There are also moments of humor sprinkled throughout the movie; one of which is a smash cut that revolves around an innocuous reveal. Everything happens to try exploring its characters’ humanity while trying to dissect the effects of bullying Shoko, from Shoko & her family, the instigators, & those who stood by as it happened.

“Try” is the operative word there, because while it is sincere in its aims, adapting the whole story into a movie is not a good idea. It is crammed with so much plot that the movie is forced to either introduce it without giving those who have read the manga to care, rush these developments, or abruptly end it for the next one; which is counter-intuitive to its slow pacing. It also forces the movie to focus mostly on Shoya, nearly turning it into a movie about a guy redeeming for his previous sins, which gives us less time to spend on everyone, especially the deaf girl at the center of the story. The movie is aware that Shoyo might be trying to flatter himself, but it still doesn’t change the fact that the movie’s approach undercuts a lot of character development. It really would’ve been better as a two-hour anime.

Instead, what we have is a recap movie to a non-existing excellent season of anime. It still works thanks to its insights & attention to detail making sure that every emotional beat lands most of the time, but it’s hard not to think how great it would’ve been if we had been given more time to watch these characters facing up to the choices they’ve made in the past. Unfortunately, we don’t live in that universe, but at least we got a good movie from the manga here.

Advertisements

Feel the Bliss with No Hesitations

 TL;DR: This mindfuck  the director of Heneral Luna is a relentless attack on the entertainment industry & a sympathetic, slightly problematic view of how abuse haunts those who are affected by it.

Jane Ciego (Iza Calzado) is a famous actress working in showbiz since she was a kid with the help of her overbearing stage mother (Shamaine Buencamino). She hopes to finally bag an award in a movie where not only is she the lead actress, but also its producer. While working on set, she is injures due to an accident caused by a faulty rig on set. It leaves her paralyzed from the waist down, forcing her to use a wheel chair. Her husband (TJ Trinidad) decided they would stay at a rest house in order to regain her strength. However, strange things are happening inside the house. She hears voices of people whispering & unnatural noises coming from the walls. It doesn’t help that her husband isn’t allowing her to leave the house or contact anyone else & her nurse Lilibeth (Adrienne Vergara) is a callous woman seemingly motivated to make her life miserable. Slowly, she starts to question the two people taking care of her & her sense of reality.

What unfolds is one of the most controversial Filipino movies released in recent years. It gained notoriety thanks to the Movie & Television Ratings Classification Board (MTRCB) slapping it with an X rating, meaning the movie isn’t allowed to be shown commercially. It gained an R-18 rating after a 2nd review without a need to cut any scenes; which is still harsh seeing as it isn’t as gory or sexually explicit as other movies.

Solely focusing on the brouhaha would be a huge disservice to this outstanding mindfuck from Jerrold Tarog. This is a twisted tale that finds an ingenious way to talk about how the entertainment industry molds women to fit certain roles, exploiting & commodifying them until they’ve been completely hollowed out; how that same machinery negatively affects people outside the industry – especially those who weren’t fated to enter it – & the ways abuse – including rape – haunts those who’ve been inflicted with it. It’s a deeply cynical film focusing on our ability to be egotistical & cruel in an industry that enables & rewards these impulses, but avoids becoming a shallow, mean-spirited diatribe.

It helps that Jerrold Tarog couched this in the realm of psychological thriller – a genre that’s rarely produced in the Philippines anymore – using his signature non-linear narrative. But what he does here is even trickier compared to the rest of his work, since he now has to apply that structure in a story where a character’s sense of reality is dissolving before our eyes, while revealing the stories of people who found themselves in Jane’s orbit for different reasons.

And he pulls it off with aplomb. He still doles out important details whenever they will make the most impact, but when it moves from one character to the another, he uses Jane’ s story as the main anchor holding everything together while. Tarog switches from different scenes with clever match cuts – like someone’s head being bashed with a vase & cutting to a glass containing strawberry juice breaking on the floor – pieces of dialogue, & going back to Jane. It’s an approach that might be confusing, but never infuriating, since he’s not stringing the audience along a sleek, stylish puzzle with nothing on its mind.

It is stylish though, in a way that doesn’t intrude on the movie’s intentions. It’s nothing too crazy, but one where images create a vibe of unease, where bursts of violence can break out any moment. Cinematographer Mackie Galvez keeps his shots close to Iza Calzado’s face, trapping us with her. These scenes are punctuated by moments of brutality, often sexually tinged, where bloodshed is imminent, which will give way to surreal imagery, creating a uncomfortable mix never meant to titillate anyone.

All of this wouldn’t be possible if Tarog hadn’t cast Iza Calzado at the role. She’s the one tying everything together, showing us every facet of her personality during her life before the accident while trying to fight back at her captors. But the standout performance comes from Adrienne Vergara. She can be menacing & childish at the same time, exploring the dark soul of a woman broken down by the film industry & the women surrounding her.

The rest of the cast are stacked too. Audie Gamora is great as a self-absorbed director pursuing his passion project with Jane. Michael de Mesa is conniving as a Boy Abunda analogue feeding the machinery to keep it alive. Self-centered stage mothers don’t get any better with Shamaine Buencamino, which doesn’t even reward her daughter Jane with affection even if she benefits from her daughter’s riches. TJ Trinidad is great as Jane’s husband eager to use her money for his business while treating her badly. Ian Veneracion has fun subverting his reputation by playing a charming asshole who uses his stardom to sleep with other women; even if he’s married.

However, the approach chosen by Jerrold Tarog skirts toward cheapening the experience of rape victims. It doesn’t allow for a nuanced look, especially because of the way the story plays out, & recalls the way pop culture has often used rape as a backstory for villains; even if there is historical precedent for it. The movie does have its sympathies with the victim, which helps a lot taking the edge of it, but it is still a bit questionable.

Even with those problems, this movie is worth watching. It has risked controversy by tackling mature themes & putting it inside a work of genre filmmaking; and it mostly works. It begins with a puzzle, slowly unravelling to reveal its pitch black assault on the entertainment industry while treating those unlucky enough to become its victims with sympathy. We should all be grateful for it.