Makoto Shinkai's VOICES OF A DISTANT STAR
By Dennis D. McDonald
I started out to write a seriously positive and complimentary review but this is what came out at first:
Cruel aliens. Teenagers recruited as combatants. Giant starships. Young love. Cool gadgets. All in under half an hour!
I suppose if you put STARSHIP TROOPERS through a meat grinder and rearranged the basics, made it less cruel and more sensitive, totally apolitical, and added sensitive plinky-plunky piano music (like in one of those sensitive coffee ads that shows Mom resting with a smile after she’s sent the kids and Hubby off for the day), you might have something like VOICES OF A DISTANT STAR.
VOADS takes teenage love and devotion and puts it to a test — a 9 light year test to be sure (I’m adding the length of the two jumps here). Our lovers: The young man is left back home on earth where he appears to be the only living human - obviously in 50 years the population is contracting. His 15 year old girl friend does better in school (I can tell this not Buenos Aires since the newspapers are in Japanese) andis selected to join the space war where she pilots what looks like a standard-issue battle suit (you know, the kind Heinlein almost invented in his STARSHIP TROOPERS novel). Only these suits operate in the vacuum of space and allow instantaneous direction changes and start stop capabilities, obviously having been outfitted with Federation-issued Inertial Dampers.
But the truth is that I really enjoyed this DVD. I can’t say this is a “movie” since its so short, can I? The background is that the author/director/animator did it all himself on a Macintosh, with help for sound and voices. Hats off to Makoto Shinkai!
It is afantastic achievement. The art work is better than most of what you see on ADULT SWIM (by a very wide margin), the design of the spaceships and alien vessels is beautiful, the combination of simulation and electronic display inside the power suits looks quite original, and the story, while short at 28 minutes, packs an astonishing amount of information and story elements in while not swerving from the relentless focus on these two emotional lovers, communicating (one way) over a gulf of light years.
The only element I found really jarring was the use of what appear to be standard early-21st-century cellphones for text messaging. Since the story is supposed to take place in 50 years (long enough away for us to populate Mars with colonists whose death by the hands of the alien invaders is what causes the war in the first place) the look of these text messaging phones is a bit out of place. (I would expect that within 5 years or so standard form factor cell phones like those here will be replaced with wearable units once voice recognition software is perfected.)
But I digress. This short film is a real winner. If you appreciate stories and or art like SPRITED AWAY, LAIN, PRINCESS MONONOKE, GRAVE OF THE FIREFLIES, BLUE SUBMARINE NO. 6, or WINGS OF HONNEAMISE, this one’s for you. Just don’t expect to spend more time with it than with a decent infomercial.