Twenty minutes is a short time for anything, especially for a movie. But Makoto Shinkai’s Voices of a Distant Star shows how much you can do within those few minutes. The movie opens with a lonely Mikako struggling to come to terms with life’s consequences. The year is 2047, and she has just finished middle school. Earth has begun a war against an alien race called Tarsians, and the UN Space Army has drafted this fifteen-year-old girl for their forces. And so Mikako leaves everything behind—high school, ordinary life, her friend Noboru. Even after the UN spacecraft heads off to outer space, the two continue communicating through email; but as Mikako drifts farther away from Earth, their messages take longer to reach each other, eventually spanning years and possibly a lifetime.
This movie reminds me so much of Shinkai’s other film, 5 Centimeters per Second. Similarities encompass theme and technique: both films tackle the topic of distance in relationships, and both rely heavily on atmosphere to set the mood. More specific overlaps also occur, like the many train scenes in the middle and the synchronized soliloquys at the end. I liked 5 Centimeters per Second a lot more though, perhaps because I watched it first, and also because it’s much longer. Plus I noticed an abuse of weather-correlatives in Voices of a Distant Star (not sure about 5 Centimeters per Second, but at least I didn’t notice it then). On Earth as in distant planets, always, one of these is falling: rain, cherry blossoms, snow, shafts of sunlight. Despite this, I still felt teary-eyed by the end. Maybe I’m just a sucker for these kinds of films, but there it is. I found the movie’s outer space aspect a fitting representation of the various kinds of distance that plague relationships. When things stretch beyond our control, all we can do is hope. “We are far, far, very, very far apart, but it might be that thoughts can overcome time and distance.” This, this is infinitely sad.
The time between Mikako and I drifts further and further apart. That is why I have made a goal, to make my heart harder, colder and stronger.