“And ever has it been known that love knows not its own depth until the hour of separation.”
The sheets of rain curtained onto the barren streets, while a single boy runs for shelter into a bus stop. He looked skinnier than usual, as the white fabric clung to his pale flesh and the shadows plastered to his features. Sliding onto the bench, he slipped out his cellphone, fiddling with it for a bit before the screen came chirping to life. The beep ricocheted through his heart like a jolt of electricity, bringing his attention to the email he received. He had waited a year to see her name typed, “From: Mikako”.
Voices of a Distant Star doesn’t have ambitions to be some theatrical space opera or intergalactic epic of Star Wars-like proportions. It’s a romantic heart dressed in a science-fiction dress, trimmed with mecha and aliens that seek to destroy all of mankind. Exciting isn’t it? But we all know love is about personality, not the looks. Through the smokescreen of whirring missiles and the winding tentacles of Tassarian battleships lies a tale of two star-crossed lovers torn apart by deep-space combat.
Makoto Shinkai debut effort sets the motif that threads together his future work, two lovers sundered by the realities of society, its framework and how love’s pale fingers can stretch to the limitless boundaries of remoteness. It’s a microscopic mirror into the mind of Shinkai, who develops these themes in much greater depth in 5 Centimeters per Second and The Place Promised in Our Early Days, but the sense of separation between these particular characters feels the most immense, caulked by vacuum of the heavens. His two actors, Mikako and Nobura, are middle school students that fancy spending high school together, trading dreams of Kendo club and buying ice cream at the local convenience store. These daytime reveries shatter when Mikako reveals she will be a pilot, helming a mech to combat a threat to humanity.
The narrative hinges on the emails exchanged by the two friends, as the dividing light-years cause their messages to take longer and longer to deliver. Minutes and hours quickly precipitate into months and years. As the breadth of day grow, Mikako’s gloom and isolation become palpable as she flounders in her heartache. Her outcast from the account of earthly time is distressing to watch, frozen in her fifteen-year-old frame as Noboru ages across an eternity. The exchanges delicately nurture the climax, Nobura receiving a wandering text many years later, as the layers of melancholy and rejection sweep over the viewer. It’s bittersweet, but that’s how I take my chocolate.
The frames of Voices from a Distant Star are torn from the pages of a sketchbook. Frayed lines crisscross one another, actualized into shape by a wash of pastel watercolors. It’s breathtaking, yet curiously unassuming, asking the audience to focus on the interaction of the characters instead of the hushed hallows of ‘Random Japanse Suburb 1’.
The placid humdrum of the town is broken up by hyper technological CGI sequences involving giant robots, deviant aliens, and a mobiles of heavenly bodies. The sections seem obtrusive, jarring even, compared to the tranquil hues of earth. Reason being, the 3D sections are of amateur quality, textures are grainy and the rendering is poorly aliased, caked up in overembellished lighting effects. The animation is comparatively clunky, as the steel clad titans stumble through each scene. My homesickness quickly dissipated when the camera traveled back to the dulcet foyers of ‘Random Japanese Suburb 1’.
A companionless piano is kept by a metronome’s heartache, as its solitary steps pave an upsetting chant. The instrument stands on it’s feeble as it’s chord echo Mikako’s alienation and Noburo’s fortitude. It’s the glue that holds together the collages Shinkai assembles with his imagery and dialogue, which at times falls flat. Shinkai and his fiancé in the original did the voices of the leads, and professional seiyuu were employed for the mass distributed version. In either, Mikako’s voice is a monotone murmur, absent of any sort of emotional inflection till the very end. Noburo suffers from a similar affliction, but atleast his voice is audible. Like the Animation, the sound and music stands on uneven footing, faltering from time to time.
Both protagonists don’t have much bulk to them, reflected by their flip-book style of artwork. Most of what we know comes from the events that unfold within the twenty-three minutes, back story ignored. Most of the character development is driven by the communication between the two students and how it fuels their catharsis in the final moments. I couldn’t ask for more from a short film, and was surprised at the magnitude of effect their romance had on me.
I’ve had these feelings before, sitting at the airport as my girlfriend kissed me on the apple of cheek instead of saying goodbye. I thought about how the Rockies, the desert, the Great Plains, and Wisconsin separated us. My heart pelted against my chest as I as the final few seconds wound down from the Quicktime counter. Voices of a Distant Star is a powerful work of art and a stunning display of storytelling which I highly recommend.