Let me set aside the piling backlog that I am having right now – such as the 4th Chapter of the Indolence of the Filipinos in the 21st century, the 2nd chapter of The Fault in Our Study, the academic papers that I was tasked to finish, the essay on “Why I Was Single” (Doctor Eamer, just wait a little bit), the 2nd and 3rd volumes of the novel that I was writing (Eminencio Maginifico), the scenarios for the 1st volume, and the incoming Dear Tel entry – to give way to a review to the movie that is indeed worthy of spending some time appreciating.
September 2016. An already critically-acclaimed manga by Oima Yoshitoki finally had its animated film being shown on the theaters. Let’s get to the story while we’re at it.
The film opens with Ishida Shoya (石田 将也) at the lowest point of his life at his senior high school days. (While the first four chapters of the manga opened in their childhood days). The film switched back and forth from the present then back to the events when they were in their sixth grade, where Shoya’s life was full of joyful adventures – a depressing contrast to his bleak present life.
Out of self-preservation, some people would go to such extreme lengths just to deny memories that they were trying to run away from. It is a natural response, to plead for innocence because it would be humiliating to admit one’s guilt. It is understandable for human beings to cling onto their notions that they are the protagonists of their worlds, even though in a moral perspective, those notions were never noble. Being aware of what they’ve done would leave a resonating and unpleasant note that would eat their souls bit by bit. They try to drown it into obscurity with alcohol, or with a replacement. Others try to appeal with emotions, just to portray themselves as victims, and victims alone, employing the ever-cunning crocodile tears. The worst is shifting the blame to somebody else just to portray oneself as innocent. Ishida Shoya was the unfortunate recipient of all those kinds of wretched acts, by making him the ever-dispensable scapegoat, by Ueno (who was unrepentant), Kawai (who was constantly in denial), Hiroshi, and Shimada (who kept on causing Ishida’s isolation).
Even though it was an unforgettable and unpleasant memory whose every detail was burned into Ishida’s mind, the way that they kept on denying that memory for their personal convenience made him doubt even his own account on what happened, even though he was the viewpoint character. The world is full of those people. I dealt with many of them in the past. They kept on denying just to run away from their share of guilt. To prevent that from happening, I recorded every event with a clear conscience, without denying anything, even my own flaws and shortcomings. I confided every development and events with my close friends and associates, so that they can back me out when time comes, though I never persuaded them to take my side, I let them interpret the evidences firsthand, and I let them reprimand me every time I was in the wrong. To the very least, I confided it faithfully through my pen (through my writings, without bullshitting any detail). Even though I was threatened most of the times, on which I only gave in thrice (first was when my colleague convinced me; second was when the reputation of a UP Summa cum laude was subjected to risk when I unknowingly made the internal rumors of some dormitory into light; and third was when a whole fraternity threatened me), I stood to what I have said and what I have wrote. I would only apologize for what I’ve written, but I would never retract what I’ve written for that would mean that I would be lying to myself, and to the primary Witness.
That was my personal experience. The most famous case would be the former FBI director Jim Comey’s memos about all of his meetings with Trump, who was known to be a consummate liar. Every detail that is rooted from reality should be recorded diligently, so when the time to pursue justice comes, those recorded details will come handy. It depends on the person’s standpoint. It can be the opposite where the suppression of what they deem that would cause inconvenience – on which they guised as accusations of slander – is the one treated as pursuing justice. Justice, to many people, is keeping the their worlds sacred and intact. That was why there were conflicts, because we had different interpretations (which usually center around ourselves), and these interpretations contradict with each other. That was the premise of the social contract by Locke. It was evident in the case of the ideological clash of between Ueno and Kawai – which someone has commented that those two were trash waifus, thinking that she was “not” one – with each of them asserting righteousness over what happened.
The conflict and tension between the two, which is highlighted more in the manga, brings us the question on what means does justice served. Is it like Ueno, where the person guilty suffered consequences which people deemed rightful, based on their respective definitions of karma? Or is it like Kawai, where everything is buried in the past so that one can look into the future while acting like nothing happened? Or maybe I was wrong on associating each ideology to the wrong persons? Or are those conflicting ideologies of Ueno and Kawai are just basically the same selfish thing? Justice and righteousness are too abstract things to be given universal definitions, because they are ones most susceptible to be contorted by people into their own benefits. One cannot escape the bias of the self. That is why justice is decided upon by the 3rd parties, who are non-partisans. Can we sever our attachments to the characters, be the 3rd party judges, and judge the characters without any personal biases? Nope, we are left to wonder and bask upon the fact that there was no total victim and total culprit in this story, but rather these characters served as a mirror on how all of us would always be flawed beings.
That leads us to the next question about redemption. How far must one go just to achieve redemption? Do we deserve redemption in the first place? That question has been going through Ishida’s mind as he struggles through his life of self-resignation. Quoting Hikigaya Hachiman from Oregairu: “What if you could reload your save data to change your previous choice, like in a game? Would it change your life? The answer is a resounding no.” Ishida knows that he can no longer undo what he has done to Nishimiya. He cannot give all of those lost and unhappy years back. Although his resolve takes root from the past, that resolve of his to make Nishimiya happy and forget the past is designed for the present, because the present is all that they have and the future is all that they can influence.
Even so, the question on how much one has to do to achieve redemption lingers. But the answer is already found on that resolve of his: redemption is achieved when one no longer looks back to the past and he/she begins to accept the present. That is why it is understandable for Ishida to keep Nishimiya from looking back on the past (especially on that old communication notebook of hers). But Nishimiya thinks otherwise and seek to iron the wrinkles of their past. Well, discussing the ideologies of the characters at this point leads us to the resemblance of the overall outline of Koe no Katachi to Oregairu. I kept seeing Hachiman, in terms of appearance, on Shoya. What just made them entirely different from each other was that the premise was totally different. Hachiman was a victim of an unpleasant past, but Ishida was some kind of a culprit in his past. That was why Hachiman looked upon society with contempt, while Ishida looked upon society seeking acceptance and forgiveness. Hachiman fights back against the misgivings of society with his twisted personality while all that Shoya can do against the misgivings of society was to accept it for he thought that he deserve it.
The reason why I brought up Oregairu and Hachiman is because of the question of whether facing everything or running away is the answer. The developments of the story shift back and forth with those answers. Ishida started by facing Nishimiya as his final test of courage before doing his attempt on “running away” through death. However, he changed his mind because of Nishimiya who is determined to face everything. He joined her in her quest to face everything and everyone from their shared unpleasant past. However, that quest backfired as old wounds began to open again which forced Ishida to run away “with Nishimiya”. The sight of Ishida’s mishaps which was caused by her quest forced her to “run away” by committing suicide, thinking that everything would be fine if she were gone.
That move of Nishimiya forced Ishida ultimately in a corner where the sight of the person he cherished the most on the brink of death forced him to face everything for real. Ishida on the process of saving her fell in her stead. That spurred Nishimiya to face everything once more. And with both of them finally on sync on their resolves, they finally achieve redemption together.
The movie’s theme of redemption is intertwined very well with its theme of friendship. But I would not dwell in this theme longer because the manga already explained it thoroughly, so I would recommend you to read the manga. To be honest, some faithful to the manga are upset on how the movie remove the main element that brought Ishida’s clique together, which is the movie that they are producing. Some may find his clique’s reconciliation somehow half-baked without the movie. But the movie (not Nagatsuka’s movie) managed to deliver what the manga can’t. That moment when Ishida achieved redemption during their school’s festival is the most uplifting scene, not only in this movie, but in any movie.
It is a story of hope, forgiveness, redemption, friendship, and love. Koe no Katachi (The Shape of Voice) managed to wrap all these themes together as one in a way that other movies and lengthy series can’t within 130 minutes, so worthy even the creator of the movie’s rival in the blockbusters, Kimi no Na wa, Shinkai Makoto, cannot help but give tremendous praise to this movie, even calling it something that can never be replicated.
That leads us to the final talk for this writing piece. Some may say that it was rather unfortunate for these two movies to go head-to-head in the blockbusters. That led to questions on which movie was better. In the first place, these movies were different to be even compared with. Kimi no Na wa is about loneliness and reaching out for the person you love while Koe no Katachi is about hope, forgiveness and redemption. Let’s all be grateful consumers like Aki Tomoya (from Saenai Heroine no Sodatekata). I just felt bad that they weren’t screened at the same time on Philippine theaters, because Filipinos would never get the same treat that the Japanese had when these two movies were on their week’s cinema bucket list.
The next part of my review on Koe no Katachi will be about the plot, music, cinematography, and the characters. These were just my philosophical afterthought. I just don’t have the right frame of mind to elaborate them as of the moment, because it was still fresh for me that I was supposed to watch this movie with somebody, only that she didn’t show up. This was written on the day after it premiered on Philippine theaters (It was a Thursday, if my memory served me right). That girl – whom I hoped to be the Nishimiya in my life – ended being an Ueno and a Kawai, both #TrashWaifus. I regretted associating that girl with Nishimiya. Nishimiya Shoko is a hundred times better than that girl. I just need time to disassociate Nishimiya with that girl.