My wife and I just recently watched a beautiful anime movie about human connection and compassion. Here is what I thought.
Now that ’13 reasons why’ has put the issues of bullying and suicide on the debate table (whether it does it correctly or a total mess of it, that’s matter for another blog post), I think it is fair to talk about this movie that might be dismissed at first hand but actually does a superb job talking about bullying, redemption, special needs and depression.
The basic story is this: Shoya is a bullied, solitary teenager getting ready to kill himself, paying debts and closing circles. Once he is ready to jump off a bridge, he stops and returns home, where his mother coaxes him into being alive. And thus starts his redemption story. You see, Shoya was a bully himself, and a mean one to that. The object of his bullying was a deaf girl when they were kids. He bullied her for being different so much that he got his school into troubles and in turn becomes the scapegoat and bullied by others for the following five years, losing all his friends and interest in human contact.
Since then he has lived with the regret of his actions, to the point he thinks that he is nothing but trash. However a chance meeting with Shoko, the deaf girl he bullied changed everything. He decides to live his life with the aim of making her happy (she has a sad family life too) as payment for his transgressions. They start to connect, trying to understand each other and forgive each other and in the process they heal their emotional wounds and meet new friends, in some cases even rekindling old friendships.
Most of the depression/ suicide tendencies that the main characters show come from the fact that they hate themselves more than others do and see themselves as a waste of space and the bullying they suffered as something they earned. It’s sounds fucked up, right? But the harsh truth is that many people undergoing depression feel exactly that. In this movie (especially those singled out for a dissability), it is through friendship as a support network, better communication and actually caring for other that the characters are able to overcome their demons and false sense of guilt and move on into a better life.
The movie focuses more on the aftermath of the bullying and depression side of things, more on how the characters try to move on, but the story is constructed in a melancholic yet hopeful way. The story concludes with an open ending that has an upbeat tone to it. In no moment the film acts as exploitative or creates drama for the sake of drama (contrary to other anime) but it is a logical progression of acts-consequences and learning not only to own that but move from there. Even the characters you might dislike start to earn their redemption because they are fallible humans who also have needs and problems.
The music and the art are beautifully done, but the most striking scenes are those where we get inside Shoko’s head and her struggles to communicate. This is a film I will buy for my lectures on universal design and how disabilities should be understood.
The most important thing is that, while the movie summarizes 7 tomes of manga (which according to my wife does faithfully even if it downplays a bit the uglier parts of bullying), you can see the maturing process of the main cast and how that process helps others to heal their own emotional wounds.
It’s a story about understanding and empathy. It’s a story about learning to forgive yourself and forgive others. About learning to conduct meaningful human interactions in a world where feeling alone in the middle of a crowd is commonplace. But most important, it is a love story, but more than romantic love is a story about loving each other and loving yourself so you can live a life worth living. And that is a really powerful message
Watch it if: you are a fan of ‘slice of life’ anime and are interested in a well-done story about empathy/friendship and bullying/depression in a non-exploitative way.
Don’t watch it if: I can’t think of a reason to don’t watch it.
Grade: 5 out of 5.
Desirability: I will be buying the blu-ray when it comes out. One for my home and one for work.