March 5, 2010

Global Shinkai Day: Voices of a Distant Star

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Written by: Kristin
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Well, days really.  Fans of Makoto Shinkai around the globe will be celebrating the second annual Global Shinkai Day from March 5 – March 7.  To celebrate, because I am a huge fan and think you should be too, I’ll be reviewing his three major films over the weekend, in order of release.  Today we’ll look at Voices of a Distant Star (and also She and Her Cat).  Come back tomorrow for The Place Promised in Our Early Days (also known as Beyond the Clouds), and on Sunday for 5 cm per Second.

Also to celebrate, streaming website Crunchyroll will be hosting all three of Shinkai’s feature films, free for 48 hours, starting March 5th at 5pm PST.  Fan site Cherry Blossoms Falling will be hosting contests over the weekend, giving away autographed movie posters from 5 cm per Second.

I can’t tell you a lot about Shinkai without simply copying the info from elsewhere, because there’s not a lot to be had.  He was born in 1973, and is a director, animator, and even a voice actor.  He won the grand prize at the 2000 DoGA CG Animation contest for his short piece She and Her Cat.  Shortly after, he quit his job at a video game company to make the 25-minute-long Voices of a Distant Star, which premiered as an OVA (original video animation) in February, 2002.   He followed that with the 90 minute The Place Promise in Our Early Days in 2004, and the three-part hour long 5 cm per Second in 2007.  Shinkai is currently working on his next film.

What makes Shinkai remarkable are his storytelling abilities and his unique animation style.  Each of Shinkai’s films expertly blends traditional animation with computer animated graphics.  They also tend to center on themes of love spanning time and space, growing up, and the passage of time.

We’ll start with his first feature film, and my favorite piece besides, Voices of a Distant Star.  I think the feel of the piece (and really, all of his films) is best left described by Shinkai himself.  From an insert in ADV’s release of Voices:

Around the time I was about Mikako and Noboru’s age [they’re 15-16], I have the feeling that I was always looking up at the sky.  Just like a lot of other kids, from an adult’s point of view, my problems were probably a matter of course and trivial.  In my opinion, though, I harbored many truly serious problems.  They were “life-path” or scholarship decision, the devastating distance from the girl I liked, or the club where I could not become a regular team member.  Back then I didn’t know how to deal with those types of problems efficiently.  I just gazed at the passing clouds and the star-filled sky, and thought, “these problems of mine are small things not worth taking note of in this world.”  I would desperately try to gain comfort from that.  Even now, the distinctly prominent outline of the scenery from those time remains strongly impressed upon me.  That strong feeling of, “I have a feeling that I am alone in this vast world, but I am here,” from that time; I’ve packed in as much of my feelings from those times as possible into Voices of a Distant Star.

In Voices of a Distant Star, in the year 2046, high school students Mikako and Noboru are on the verge of a relationship.  Noboru admires Mikako’s intelligence and skills, particularly at kendo, and Mikako enjoys the comfort of Noboru’s presence.  However, Mikako is chosen to become a pilot for the military, and must abandon her peaceful life on Earth to fight in a war against the Tarsians, an alien race that seems intent on wiping out the human race.  She signs up as a mech pilot, leaving Noboru behind, whose grades and abilities aren’t quite up to snuff for the military.  Her only means of communicating with the person she loves is her cell phone, which she uses to send constant text messages back to Noboru on Earth.  As Mikako flies further into the far reaches of space, her messages take longer to travel back to Earth.  Noboru waits, clinging to the hope of a new text message to prove that Mikako is still alive, as each message takes days, months, and finally years to reach him.  Years in which Noboru ages, while Mikako stays the same.

I’m tearing up just writing about it!  It’s powerful stuff, even if it only runs about 25 minutes.  I was bawling the first time I watched it, and I still get teary eyed every time.  It’s such a simple, pure story about love, desperation, and hope.  And its got some of the most amazing animation I’ve ever laid eyes on.  Shinkai expertly blends traditional animation with 3D computer animation to create a truly stunning film.  The soundtrack is equally beautiful, and helps create the breathtaking experience you’re sure to have.  I’d love to sit here and write all about the themes of the story, and the beauty and detail of the animation…but you’d be here all day, and you’re better off experiencing it for yourself.  Head to Crunchyroll this weekend and don’t let the opportunity to watch this film pass you by.  I’m not sure which version they will be showing.  There are three: ADV’s English dub (mostly likely this one), the official Japanese dub, and the original dub with voices provided by Shinkai himself and his wife (my favorite of the three, but they’re all excellent).  By the way (though it’s hardly a “by the way”), the entire film was animated by Shinkai himself.

She and Her Cat, which comes as an extra on ADV’s Voices DVD, is a very short monochrome film Shinkai independently created in 1999.  The film won an award from the SKIP Creative Human Contest and the 12th DoGA CGA Contest.  The story examines the daily life of a lonely young woman and her cat, through the point of view of the cat.  There’s not a whole lot to say here, because it is a really short piece (the full thing runs about five minutes).  It explores loneliness, identity, and love.  It’s absolutely lovely, but I don’t think they will be showing this one online, so you’ll have to get the DVD to see it.

I highly recommend all of Shinkai’s films, but Voices of a Distant Star has remained my favorite.  This is a perfect opportunity to watch an amazing film, and it will only take about 25 minutes of your time.  It’s completely worth it.  They’re a little difficult to find on DVD, since ADV shut down, so if you find one in a store somewhere, consider yourself lucky and pick it up immediately (5 cm per Second goes for over $100 on Amazon).  Voices was released as an individual DVD and bundled together with The Place Promised.  The bundle can get a little pricey online.  You can find Voices alone for about $15 on  There was also a very nice (single volume) manga adaptation that was released domestically by Tokyopop.

Come back tomorrow for a look at The Place Promised in Our Early Days.