This challenging and insightful Japanese animated film by female director Naoko Yamada moves us well beyond the Studio Ghibli era. Like the dazzling ‘Your Name’ (2016), it takes a high-school story and runs with it. Here, we follow cool-dude bully Shoya, who picks on deaf girl Shoko in class while teachers turn a blind eye and schoolmates fall in behind him. But when the poor girl transfers to another school, Shoya starts taking a long look at himself – and doesn’t like what he sees.
Breaking down a seven-volume manga makes for an occasionally clogged storyline, yet here’s a film with the psychological depth to explore the meaning of friendship and the traps of status and approval, and whose characters have enough substance to make their tribulations touching and compelling. To top it all off, Yamada’s creative direction shows a filmmaker with a distinctive way of looking at the world, following in the footsteps of other maverick Japanese talents like Ozu, Kitano and Miyazaki. Yep, she’s that good.