February’s big holiday is Valentine’s Day, thus, it behooves me to talk about it. It has significant appeal here in the States, and seems to have quite the same appeal in Japan, if not more so as they have two in fact! In this review I celebrate Valentine’s Day by addressing 2002’s Voices of a Distant Star by Makoto Shinkai (The Garden Of Words – 2013, Your Name – 2016), which uses the email feature of cell phones to bring its narrative structure a touching effect.
At 25 minutes, Voices is an animated short film that tightly utilizes its brief time to tell a story that spans our solar system, and another (Sirius to be exact), starting with the heroine waking from a dream about a vacant city, finding herself at present in the cockpit of a mobile suit out in space.
We’re then taken back to the humble beginnings of this story set in 2047. Two middle school friends, Mikako Nagamine (our heroine), and Noboru Tera (her best friend), walking home from school together on a rainy day. We find that the two are deeply in love, about to enter high school, and looking forward to going together.
Things seem pretty normal until you pluck the pieces of exposition from their conversation, and things in the environment around them (Newspapers, Advertisements, etc). The world is at war with a hostile alien species, the Tarsians, and Mikako is pegged to be a potential pilot on board the Lysithea, the flag ship of a space fleet that humanity’s survival hinges upon.
Kicking into gear from there, we jump between Mikako’s journey through pilot training to space, and Noboru’s life progressing normally on Earth. Their link is their cell phones, Mikako sending emails at various stages in her journey, Mars. Jupiter, and Pluto, where her first conflict with the uniquely unnerving alien race occurs before her fleet departs to Sirius via plot-device space drive technology.
This is where the narrative structure comes into play.
Mikako’s story is happening in real time, therefore, she isn’t aging before our eyes. Since each of her emails are sent further away from Earth, they are taking longer to reach Noboru, who we only return to when he receives them. He’s progressively older each time we see him, trying to move on with his life.
At Sirius, Mikako and the fleet are ambushed while scoping out the system’s planets, and the climax ensues, where, Mikako pulls out all the stops to save the fleet, succeeding in protecting only the Lysithea from destruction. She manages a final, two word text to Noboru as her mobile suit drifts severely damaged through space after the conflict.
Returning to Noboru on Earth, we find him age 24 receiving the text from Sirius that took over eight years to reach him. Always believing he could move on in the time between the emails, we find that Noboru never did, and never could. In the background, hanging in his closet is a space fleet uniform, media shown in clips tells the viewer that an expedition is underway to retrieve the Lysithea.
This is where the film leaves the audience.
Animated, written, and directed entirely by Makoto Shinkai using his computer, with himself, and non professional performers voice acting initially, it is not only visually stirring, holding up over the last 19 years, but an impressive feat of production in and of itself. Eventually recast with professional voice actors, and the DVD released in 2002 via CoMix Wave Inc., ADV would handle the North American release and dubbing in 2003. A manga adaptation, by Kodansha, and several light novels by Penguin Random House, would follow.
Voices of a Distant Star is a romance under scrutiny, but its sentiment can’t be wrapped up with a box of chocolates, and gifted. How it presents a very extreme portrayal of a long distance relationship is not “lovey dovey” saccharin sweet, but heartfelt, and earnest in what it is trying to convey.
It tells us is that love can go the distance of time, and space, no matter how long or how far.
That’s the takeaway.
The gift given.