I had the opportunity to see the anime film adaptation of Koe no Katachi (聲の形)—released in English-speaking markets as A Silent Voice—just a few days after its original premiere in Japan during 2016 September. It was exciting for me, as it was my first time attending a new anime release in a theater. The following week I was staying in Kyoto, about a two hour train ride from the primary setting of the work in Ōgaki and Yōrō, adjacent cities in Gifu Prefecture, and set aside a day to explore these.
Spoiler Advisory: At the time of writing, the Blu-ray/DVD for the film has recently been released. As it may be some time before many are able to obtain access, and this visit was made prior to the release, this post only includes images from previews, commercials and other publicly available materials. It also omits discussion of plot details, however it does contain photographs and background information of locations that appear in the film but not in the previews.
Because of the timing of the theater release, just a few weeks after Shinkai Makoto blockbuster Kimi no Na wa. (I saw both on the same day), inevitable comparisons between the two films were made. Kimi no Na wa. is a fun and energetic romp from end to end. Director Naoko Yamada’s (K-On!, Tamako Market) Kyoto Animation produced interpretation of Koe no Katachi is pensive, asking the viewer to slowly absorb its complex and at times uncomfortable content about bullying, depression and communication, though I found it ultimately rewarding. The latter did not have the same wide and long box office run, nor extensive overseas releases, but still did very well in Japan. The manga source material by young mangaka Ōima Yoshitoki, an Ōgaki native who was only eighteen when she first began creating the work, has been widely praised, both in Japan and its English translation abroad.
The manga and film both incorporate detailed depictions of locations in Ōgaki, the primary urban setting where most of the story takes place, as well as an excursion to a public art installation and natural settings in neighboring Yōrō, reachable by a short train ride. Ōgaki had been prepared for the anticipated pop culture tourism boost and had modestly promoted its connection to Koe no Katachi under its “Cool Ogaki” marketing campaign. Perhaps because I was in the city so soon after the premiere, I observed very little of this promotion beyond some posters and banners, though subsequent to my visit Ōgaki hosted a formal exhibition of art from the film, which received some media coverage.
To get my bearings on the ground, I availed myself of great resources from the butaitanbou community, including maps and posts from Sky (スカイＤＪ @sky_dj_) and Kaminojō (紙状 @yomikatajiyu), as well as minutely detailed background discussion on the work and its setting from Endos (エンドス @los_endos_). These three had previously examined the manga, so were already familiar with the content prior to the film.
Exhibition at Shinjuku Piccadilly
I saw Koe no Katachi at Shinjuku Piccadilly, which hosted an exhibition of work products at the time of the premiere, mostly key frames from the film and panels from the manga.
The theater also distributed a gift with admission, a short side story drawn by Ōima with cover illustration by Kyoto Animation.
The film poster on the front facade of the theater was signed by the film cast.
Fast forward about a week and I’m on a weekday morning rush hour JR Special Rapid Service headed to Ōgaki via change to the JR Tōkaidō Line at Maibara, or so I think.
I have the thought to try to get these images from inside the train, then I realize my train is not going to Maibara. What had happened was there were two special rapid services leaving Kyoto Station within two minutes of each other, lined up together on one platform, the first one going to Maibara while the other heads north to Tsuruga. I had apparently boarded the latter. There’s a little note on the departure board and symbols on the platform telling you which cars go where, which I totally missed. I almost save myself when I catch the on-board announcement at Yamashina, where I could have corrected course, but I’m still not exactly clear on what’s going on and I continue on to the next stop, so I end up backtracking from Ōtsukyō and burning an hour or so. Since I have the whole day it’s not a big deal, but I’ll be sure to be more careful next time!
At Ōgaki Station, there are film posters in the above track concourse.
I set off an alarm when I try to go through the ticket wicket with my IC card, a Suica. It’s not a funding issue, so I figure the card must have had a communication error. Staff at the window completes the transaction and lets me through, but doesn’t tell me what the problem is.
Nishimiya and Ishida depart from here on a day trip to Gifu City.
From the station south exit, I pass through the Ōgaki-shi Shōtengai (大垣市商店街), branded as Genki Hatsuratsu Ichi (元気ハツラツ市), which has large movie banners hung from roof braces. This is one of two shōtengai that flank the main arterial road through the city center.
At the end of this arcade is the Shin-ōhashi (新大橋), a bridge that’s so wide it’s more like a plaza, where there is a brief but important exchange between Nishimiya and Ishida.
Most of the art in the film is very faithful to the real locations, so minor fictions like this cut stand out. The entire east side of the main street has been shifted south a little and the bridge turned to be at a smaller angle with respect to the road, so that you see the continuation of the canal, rather than the shōtengai in the background.
Ōgaki Kuruwamachi Shōtengai (大垣郭町商店街), branded as OKB Street (OKBストリート), begins after the Shin-ōhashi intersection and continues along the same arterial road. This arcade has vertical film banners hung from braces outside the overhang.
Ishida and Nishimiya have an encounter with Ueno in this arcade.
Both in the film and during my visit, there are only a few people walking the shōtengai. Despite being just before lunch time on a weekday, things are very quiet. Some shops are open, but as I walk past there more shuttered storefronts than are depicted in the film.
From the shōtengai, the most direct route to my next stop is straight through Ōgaki Castle.
The playground where Ishida takes his niece Maria is part of Ōgaki Park, which occupies a large corner of what was once the castle grounds. This screen capture comes from Eiga Koe no Katachi ga Dekirumade, a “making of” special available on Kyoto Animation’s YouTube channel. The program is notable in that it includes extensive discussion of how the setting was created and footage from the location hunts.
A few blocks away, the pedestrian and bicycle only Nishitogawa-bashi (西外側橋) and the neighborhoods surrounding this part of the Suimon River (水門川) are used as the area near the Nishimiya residence. In the work, the city is not called Ōgaki but Suimon.
From that bridge, I follow the river south a short distance and arrive at the central location for the work.
Midori-bashi (美登鯉橋) is the focal point of many important scenes and is used in the film’s key visual, the primary image for posters and other marketing materials.
The reason the background appears different from this perspective is that the rusted corrugated metal facade belonged to a factory that once stood here, but was recently demolished and converted to residential properties.
At the end of this scene, Nishimiya turns and walks away from Ishida, but in real life the platform is a dead end. There’s no way to come back to street level in that direction.
As I’m shooting these images, I realize a man is standing to the side, waiting for me to finish. I apologize and tell him to go ahead. He smiles and asks, “Koe no Katachi?” I confirm and apologize again. He tells me to enjoy the city as he leaves.
Around the corner from the bridge, multiple sites surrounding the water basin comprise the Four Seasons Plaza (四季の広場), a collection of public spaces. This is the Water Garden (ウォーターガーデン). Off-frame behind me is a covered seating area also part of the plaza. As with Midori-bashi, many scenes in the film take place in and around these spaces.
Rainbow Bridge (虹の橋)
There is a set of bells permanently installed on the bridge. It appears in the manga but not in the film. It is supposed to play a melody if you press the keys in sequence, but the tuning has drifted considerably over time.
In the background at the end of the bridge is the Ōgaki City Comprehensive Welfare Center (大垣市総合福祉会館), where Nishimiya takes sign language classes.
The entire space around the basin is known for its cherry blossoms in springtime.
Workers wade through the basin to cull and tend the river grass which, along with the carp, is a recurring motif used in the film. I also see plenty of carp, but with the overcast sky and not having a polarizing filter, I’m not able to see much in the photos.
All of these places in Ōgaki are in relatively close proximity to each other, easily reached by foot. I take my time in order to get the photos I want, and still I only need a little over two hours to make a complete loop from the station and back. There are a handful of locations in other areas near the center of Ogaki, like the hospital, shopping mall food court and cinema, which I leave out in order to make sure I have enough time for the afternoon segment in Yōrō. There are a few other locations on the outskirts of the city, bridges and river embankments, which require a bicycle or car to reach.
After a quick lunch, I hop on the Yōrō Railway Yōrō Line, which also leaves from Ōgaki Station, but from a separate ticket gate and platform.
Nishimiya and Ishida take the line out to Yōrō for a day. As I make my own trip, I’m aware of how much time and distance is compressed in the film. The train ride itself is short, but there is a considerable amount of walking once you get there.
As I understand it, there is a very old folktale involving a young boy who used a gourd to fetch local spring water and heal his ailing father. Henceforth, Yōrō has always had a thing for gourds.
From the station I head direct west toward the mountains. I spend much of my time in relatively flat places, so when I travel to new locations, I’m forever forgetting to account for topography. This route is only a rise of 15 degrees or so, but spread out over a kilometer it can be tiring if you don’t pace yourself.
Ishida and Nishimiya explore the Site of Reversible Destiny (Yōrō Tenmei Hantenchi 養老天命反転地), a massive art installation opened in 1995 inside Yōrō Park. Arakawa Shusaku and Madeline Gins designed this space to play with visitors’ sense of orientation and balance. It’s like walking through a life-sized Escher drawing. I hadn’t done enough research and wasn’t aware that it is closed on Mondays, so I’m not able to enter the grounds, but I can see some structures from the perimeter. I even get a little bit of blue sky as a consolation gift.
Site of Reversible Destiny Memorial Hall (養老天命反転地記念館)
Critical Resemblance House (極限で似るものの家) has a roof in the shape of Gifu Prefecture.
Nishimiya and Ishida also walk around the Elliptical Field, a vast bowl-shaped area with multiple sites and a ridge around it, but I’m not able to see much from the outside.
I pass dilapidated children’s amusement park Yōrō Land as I exit the park. It’s extra creepy on account of a lullaby broadcast over the public address system echoing across the deserted grounds. It does not appear in Koe no Katachi, but I think it would make a great set for a zombie film.
In the film, most of the Yōrō sequence focuses on the art installation. The waterfall at the end of this journey appears only for a brief moment, and the climb up the mountain to reach it is omitted completely, so almost everything I see from this point forward is a surprise.
The incline becomes steeper the farther I go, but the wonderful scenes are the reward for making it out here.
Yōrō Falls (養老の滝)
After descending, I wait in the river valley to watch the sun drop behind the mountain ridge. As patchy clouds move past, beams of light dance on the mountains, scattered by the mist in the air (thank you, Tyndall effect). It’s a wonderful moment that a photo doesn’t really do justice.
Back at Ōgaki, I get an orange and then pink sunset over the station as I wait for my train. After a missed train, cloudy morning, closed park and an almost run-in with zombies, the waterfall and sunset are great reversals of fortune. Maybe just passing by the Site of Reversible Destiny was enough to turn things around for me. You’ll have to see the film to see how things play out for the protagonists.
Returning to Kyoto, I again set off the alarm when I go through the ticket wicket. Staff corrects the problem and this time I get an explanation. The boundary between zones controlled by JR West and JR Tōkai is Maibara Station. Apparently you aren’t supposed to cross over operating zones using an IC card, which seems like it defeats the purpose of having inter-operable cards. Now we know!