[Six] Talkin’ ’bout my generation (A Silent Voice)

“While I was location-hunting in Gifu I started wondering what Shoya was like at that point: a kid who feels invincible but also deals with perhaps unfounded frustration. This song appeared in my mind with a bang.”

Naoko Yamada on the use of The Who’s “My Generation” in A Silent Voice

Naoko Yamada makes many precise directorial choices in her film adaptation of A Silent Voice, including but not limited to the use of flower language and other non-verbal forms of communication to form emotional snapshots of the lead characters.

The most polarizing choice was her insistence that the film lead off with The Who’s “My Generation.” This naturally created a licensing nightmare, for which Yamada took full responsibility according to multiple interviews prior to the film’s release. “My Generation” also became the primary citation of the movie’s detractors, who said that the use of the song indicated a misunderstanding of the original manga’s meaning.

Although I am for the song’s inclusion, I can see why “My Generation” is so divisive (and in turn, why this film is so divisive). A common criticism is that “My Generation” gives the film A Silent Voice a broader scope of bullying, rather than the specific and continued harassment on a deaf girl who did nothing to antagonize her peers. And while I disagree with much of this interpretation, I can definitely see where that particular criticism is coming from and it’s a valid one.

Viewers can’t skip through or gloss over “My Generation” like they can with pillow shots of different flowers. If you watch A Silent Voice with the sound on, you’ll inevitably hear The Who in the film’s introductory montage, which also serves as a flashback to Shoya Ishida’s childhood and his first encounter with Shoko Nishimiya.

Yamada’s goal in choosing this particular song was to show the end of Shoya’s invincible days. Just before the song fades out, Shoya is shown walking down the school hallway with a carefree expression like he owns the world. This is the last time he feels this way.

Despite the ubiquitous cherry blossom flowers and chromatic aberration, the film never tells us that Shoya’s world pre-Shoko is a rose-colored memory that should be enshrined in nostalgia. In fact, I’d argue that Yamada uses these common visual cues in A Silent Voice to say the opposite, especially since the film focuses on trying to move forward. At the end of the film, this scene is bookended visually as he opens his ears and begins to listen to the world around him again.

“My Generation” appears on nearly every top 100 rock song list. Its composition has been pulled apart and studied. Roger Daltrey’s forced stutter has similarly been analyzed, adding another layer to the palpable frustration in the song itself — I still half-expect him to sing “Why don’t you all f-fuck off” rather than “F-fade away.” The end result, according to the general consensus, is an anthem of youth in rebellion, encapsulated in the line “I hope I die before I get old.”

“I hope I die before I get old” takes on a slightly different meaning in the context of A Silent Voice. Both Shoya and Shoko attempt suicide, and Shoya ends up hospitalized due to his interference with Shoko’s attempt. This isn’t a nod to the mod subculture or another youth uprising. Juxtaposed against what becomes a serious look at bullying and attempted suicide, “My Generation” comes off as almost mocking the idea that Shoya could return to his youth, or would want to.

“My Generation” can also be seen as a nod to how little most adults in A Silent Voice understand Shoko’s situation and become complicit in the bullying. Shoko’s teachers are ill-prepared to integrate a deaf student in their classes and turn a blind eye to the students bullying her. Shoya’s teacher is the first to accuse him of bullying, and allows the class to use Shoya as a scapegoat rather than putting in a bit more effort to look at the full scope of the class’ harassment of Shoko. This isn’t to excuse Shoya’s actions by any means, but the lack of responsibility from teachers and authority figures is also interesting when compared to “My Generation.” Above all else, “My Generation” encapsulates friction between youth and adults, which is ever-present in A Silent Voice.

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