Ironically enough, for a movie about a deaf girl, Koe no Katachi has one of the most beautiful soundtracks and sound design I have ever heard in any movie, let alone anime, where sound may be distinct, but it usually lends itself more to simplicity and music.
I was inspired to make this post after watching a few videos analyzing Koe no Kotachi’s music, so this time, I will look at the sounds more generally than these, to differentiate myself as people far more learned in musical theory than I am have already made videos on it. I will also talk about how the visuals in each scene contrasts with the music.
Obviously, you will want to have watched Koe no Katachi first before reading my post, as I do go into full spoilers for a lot of these scenes, and a lot it will be more show than tell. The links in blue will lead to the scene in question on YouTube.
Now, let’s break down a few significant scenes, starting with:
Starting off strong, we start with a “silent” introduction, in that there is little to no dialogue. The music in this scene, and for a lot of the movie actually, is composed of soft and orchestral music, and intended to put in a sense of melancholy in the viewer.
It’s relaxing but also saddening.
It’s warm, without being familiar.
Intimate, yet uncomfortable.
Notice how muffled the scene gets as Ishida gets closer and closer to the bridge until when he is about to jump, the sounds are nothing more than a soft rumble. This is to instill a sense of numbness to the viewer, and them to empathize for the very same feelings of numbness that Ishida is feeling, of coming to terms with ending his life. You will notice this a lot throughout the movie, as the music is primarily driven by Ishida’s feelings and thoughts.
As for the shots, a pattern that you will notice is how far the camera is from Ishida for most of the opening. This is the movie showing us visually how distant Ishida feels from himself and other people. Every scene Ishida is in, something or someone is in the way, or at least cluttering the view. When it isn’t directly blocking Ishida, the shots are instead from a dark place, as it usually goes against the light. In all of it, Ishida is the one in dead center.
In fact, there are only two close-up shots of note in the entire sequence.
The first part, focusing on his mother, shows to us that Ishida does still have people he is attached to, as it is the first shot that isn’t on him, from far away or behind other obstacles.
As for the second scene, it’s signifying Ishida coming back to himself, and realizing how much it would hurt the few people he’s still attached to.
Also, make sure to remember the part where the sound of fireworks snapped Ishida back to reality, making him decide not to jump. This comes back later.
So with this scene alone, the music and sound is established. The muffle you hear throughout the movie is not only an analogue for Shouko’s deafness, but also for Ishida’s subdued emotional turmoil.
What you may notice is how every little action done in this scene, as well as the previous one, is accompanied by an appropriate sound effect. For some, this might not be a big deal, but remember, this is an anime about a deaf girl. The sounds are emphasized subtly in this scene, and for a lot of other scenes too, so that when the sound suddenly cuts out, or gets muted, it is meant to signify a shift in perspective or mood (more on this later).
The musical notes are spaced far from each other, making the sounds feel more isolated. It also serves to make the piano sound like it is being played by someone inexperienced. The progression of the music is more akin to how a teacher slowly shows a student how to play a piece. This sets the mood for Shouko, who is an incoming new student (thus the inexperienced vibe) who doesn’t know anybody in this school (thus the isolation of the notes from each other).
As for the quality of the sounds themselves, it is astonishingly high quality for something most people won’t even notice on first watch. The simple sound of tapping a mechanical pencil in a quiet classroom, the shuffling of papers, and the light conversation makes you feel like you are in an actual classroom, and really sells the realistic aesthetic of the movie. It’s far more emphasized here to contrast sharply against the introduction of a deaf girl.
For this scene, it starts off loud, with each shot focusing on the festival, meaning there’s a lot of people talking and a lot of lights:
Followed by a single, hard cut to silence when Shouko is on screen:
Is yet another example of the perspective through sound I was talking about earlier in this post. It’s the perspective of Shouko, and what she hears through all the hustle and bustle of the festival, which is to say, she hears nothing at all. The sounds of the fireworks in this scene, and the next scene too, are pure bliss. It is astonishing how real they sound, and the sounds we hear in every shift in distance when we see each character in the cast admiring it from where they are based on distance is done wonderfully. In the theater I was in, it genuinely felt like I was watching a live fireworks show.
Oh, and one last note, there’s no music throughout this entire scene. This is to leave us in the dark about what exactly Shouko is feeling, as the music would give away her mood, which sets us up for the next scene:
For this one, I will want you guys to pay close attention to the musical cues. When Ishida first enters the apartment, the music is still lighthearted and “confused”. As Ishida realizes what Shouko is doing, the music starts to pace faster and faster, reflecting panic, and more frenzied as Ishida desperately runs towards Shouko.
It reaches a crescendo until it just stops short of completing, before revealing that Ishida got her at the last second. The fireworks from the beginning, you now realize, was very subtle foreshadowing. Ishida snapped out of his suicide attempt when he heard the fireworks, while Shouko wanted to die hearing the one of the only things her ears were able to even slightly pick up.
The music really adds to the urgency and danger of the scene, and reflects Ishida’s feelings very well. I would even go so far as to say you could listen to this scene and have a pretty close understanding of what’s happening just from the sound effects, voice and musical motifs alone. The beautiful visuals, of course, are also a huge asset, and the shot of Ishida falling then cutting to an egg cracking in a bowl is a very striking shot.
As I stated before, the music in this movie is mostly a mirror to Ishida’s feelings. The music and sounds of the festival are muffled, as Ishida sighs.
However, as he slowly “opens his senses” to the world around him, the music starts to pick up. As it goes fatser and faster, the sounds also become less muffled, until a sharp ringing invades your ears, and what I can only describe as a reverse grenade of music and emotion explodes, with the camera zooming out incredibly fast, barraging both the viewer and Ishida with incredibly strong feelings of relief and happiness that will make you want to cry.
Why did I say reverse grenade?
Think about it. What happens when something explodes near you? It’s a destructively loud sound, followed by sharp ringing and muffled sounds. In this scene, the opposite is true, where it starts off as muffled, then a sharp ringing sound is heard before exploding in a cacophony of noise and music.
This scene was a beautiful summary of everything I loved about this movie. The visuals of the X’s stripping away, Ishida’s inner self crying from sheer joy at being able to feel again, and of course, the sounds, which is, in my opinion, by far the strongest aspect of this scene.
I made this post to get people to rewatch this movie not just with new eyes, but with new ears. I hope that I was able to make you appreciate just how lucky we are to be able to hear such beautiful sounds, sounds that people like Shouko, unfortunately can’t hear, and how often we forget to appreciate such a large part of our lives. Major props to the sound design team of KyoAni, and specifically Kenshi Ushio, the composer of the movie’s soundtrack.