Voices of a Distant Star - Makoto Shinkai

In many ways, Voices of a Distant Star by Makoto Shinkai is a labor of love. He did almost all of the work himself, and the voices are done by he and his wife. This explains the only 30 minute run time.

The story, set in the future, is of Mikako and Noboru. The two are friends in junior high, but only a few years later Mikako is sent off into the military to pilot a mech warrior. Not only that, but she is immediately sent on a super dangerous mission to the far reaches of our galaxy to face the space aliens at their home planet. By the time she gets here, even though it takes a relatively short period of time "real life", her cell phone messages back to Noboru now take 8 years to send.

You really have to completely suspend realistic disbelief if you're going to watch and enjoy this movie as a "romantic tender" story. There are many issues that kept bugging me. First, this is an incredibly important military mission. They're using 15 year old girls as their front line troops?? Surely, no matter how brilliant this girl is, they're not going to put her in as cannon fodder. It makes no sense at all. Second, they obviously can warp the spaceships to reach their destination in a short period of time. They're not going to have any ability to warp communications back and forth? They're telling their troops to "write home" in one scene, but they're sending those messages in a long tedious way that takes 8 years one way? How can they possibly wage a war with that kind of communication? Why would they, when they are zipping entire batallions of troops back and forth with super-fast ease?

But let's agree to ignore all of those issues. The movie isn't about those. In fact even though there are mech robots involved, there are only a few combat scenes. Really, the movie is about time and evolving personalities. You see the gorgeous drifting of white clouds, the tender falling of rain, the wispy snows. Noboru is left on Earth and drifts through these various changes in nature, wondering how Mikako is doing. In the meantime, although Mikako gets to do some sight-seeing as she goes through our own solar system, as soon as she's out "in the far reaches of space" all you see of her is her sterile robot and her cell phone. In fact in one scene it really looks like she is abandoned by her fleeing troops because she hesitates in order to grab her cell phone back from where it'd fallen.

As gorgeous and different as the two environments are, though, I really had trouble believing in this connection between the two. They were just friends when they parted. They weren't in love, they weren't clinging to each other declaring their love. In fact we don't even see the parting - just that "Oh she's gone". She could easily write him daily, but she chooses to write him VERY infrequently. He gives her the same shallow indifference.

Some people seem VERY confused about the very simple time issue. He is on Earth. She is far away. Her message takes 8 years to get back to him. She sends a message when she is 15. She knows that therefore he'll only get to listen to it when he is 15+8=24 (apparently adjusting for their different birthdays). SHE IS GOING TO BE 24 TOO WHEN THAT TIME COMES!!! If he had sent HER a message on that exact same day that she sent him her message, she would get his message when she was 24. He would get her message when he was 24. They would both get messages that had been written when the pair were 15. It's not like she is "stuck at 15" or he is "aging without her".

The movie ends with her on the distant planet, feeling lonely and having an injured robot. He is independently about to join the Space Marines :). So who knows, maybe both will die sadly in war without ever finding each other. Maybe they'll serve together. Maybe the war will end and they'll meet up in peace. But since these guys were never even dating, never mind discussing long term relationships, it seems a bit forced.

I definitely appreciate the movie a lot! This is an incredible amount of work to have been done by one person. The characters have a lot of emotion in them. The "worlds" they live in are shown to be very different but to have similarities. I just find a lot of the poignancy to be plotted out. I find that a lot of bizarre issues are glossed over, that could easily have been explained. They could have made the relationship far more believable. It just needed a few more tweaks to become an amazing classic.

Now, a note about the DVD. The subtitles are AWFUL. There are long sequences where the characters are having in depth conversations and there are NO subtitles at all. In fact, there is a critical scene where Mikako is on the enemy planet and apparently runs into an enemy unit. They talk to each other - but you have no idea what they are saying! The subtitles are completely missing. Are they both saying they're tired of fighting? Are they saying "let's get it over with"? Is it even an enemy unit? Apparently we'll never know. They could have done a MUCH much better job subtitling this DVD.

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