Makoto Shinkai’s Voices of a Distant Star & the Woes of Waiting in Loneliness (Allegories in Anime #2)

Voices of a Distant Star (ほしのこえ) is a science-fiction coming-of-age short anime film by Makoto Shinkai. It follows two friends who stay in communication via e-mail for years and years, even after one of them joins a space military force and travels many lightyears away. It was released during the Winter 2002 season.

One of my favourite things about Shinkai films are the various ways he touches on the elements of being human that most of us try very hard to run away from. The biggest thing that comes to mind, especially after watching this short, is how much life we lose to waiting in loneliness. It can be so utterly consuming to the point where we forget to live because we focus so intensely on anticipating a solution to our solitude. I’m an introverted bookworm who likes animals much more than people, and I love my physical privacy, but to say that I don’t also feel the plague of seclusion dull my gratitude for being alive would be a flat out lie, more so when I meet new people and am just ready and waiting for a crumb of affection to make me feel validated and present. I forget to eat, sleep, notice if we’re having lovely weather (the rain will come and go before I know it, for example).

For twenty four-ish minutes we watch as Mikako Nagamine (the girl) e-mails her best friend and boy she loves dearly, Noboru Terao, after she’s recruited to fight in space against a group of aliens. Some of their messages to one another are morsels of what it’s like for each of them in their own respective environments, but the rest of them are contemplations about life, love, and loneliness. In many ways their hunger for human affection and interaction directly influences their hunger for one another, thus a hunger for things in life they always took for granted—all via the vigilant patience for a single digital message.

A scene that stands out prominently to me is when Nagamine feels incredibly homesick. She ruminates about the feeling of the rain on her skin, foods she ate, the seasons she witnessed—little things that we don’t typically go out of our ways to acknowledge. Out of everything, those are the elements that make her feel the most alone in the vastness of space, making her yearn to return, and also causing her to miss Terao so awfully as a lot of her memories of said elements involve him. I became really emotional during this portion because it’s something that I have experienced to a certain extent and it’s always quite surreal. Almost as if my current reality was an extended dream that I was waiting to wake up from.

Similarly, Terao in his broodiness and patience for these tiny treats of words and affection displays that sense of being stuck in a slow, terrible dream that won’t end. One that is laced with the things we try to run away from the most. For him it was not choosing to join her in space, as much as it was for not expressing how he felt about her before she left. Thus the days are long and years substantially longer, passing him by like a cold wind.

The war in the background also plays into this waiting allegory of Voices of a Distant Star. Nagamine is chasing this threat around as it takes her further and further from home, unsure of whether its existence is fabricated or fact, until it smacks her in the fucking face (almost literally). The decades pass by, just as the planets pass by, the distance passes by (growing larger); her life passes her by.

Throughout the movie we are shown isolated cities and scenery that are protected and remote from the rest of the world around them. Such bittersweet themes displaying the passage of time as we wait for changes to happen. Stepping outside of the comfort zone to change our situations and plights is overwhelmingly horrifying, especially when we consider stuff like abandonment, disloyalty, physical and psychological pain and much more. In one such scene, there’s a city built into the walls of a canyon. Beyond those walls are green as far as the eye can see, evidence of life thriving, even surrounded by war. Yet, when all we do is wait and hope to stop being alone, that life goes by and goes on unnoticed. It passes us by while it resides directly next to us. We can’t see it because we’re too busy feeling sorry ourselves to realise it’s there. Even the skies and planets are also constantly emphasised, being dwarfed by emptiness and space, as the two teenagers end up having to wait longer and longer for their messages to reach one another thanks to galactic-travel.

If this movie has taught me anything, it is to never waste my life by waiting for things to happen. Sometimes when we are miserable we have to stand up and say, “No more.” Terao could have chosen to move on with his life in various manners that don’t involve romance. Nagamine could say that she no longer wants to soldier on and start her return journey. None of these things happen, causing them to feel more and more alone amid the distant stars separating them. But the film also taught me something else that’s very, very valuable. When we think all hope is completely lost, there will always be something close by driving us onwards. Most of the time we’ll fail to recognise it, but that doesn’t mean it’s not there doing it’s thing. Just like the messages that Nagamine and Terao shared with one another; voices that transcended distance to help them keep moving forward.

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3 thoughts on “Makoto Shinkai’s Voices of a Distant Star & the Woes of Waiting in Loneliness (Allegories in Anime #2)

  1. I’m glad you spotlighted this early Shinkai work. It seems like his older stuff gets thrown on the wayside compared to Your Name which is a shame. This was the first Shinkai project I’ve ever seen and even though it is showing it’s age with the aged CGI and older cell phones in use, the plot and impact still holds up.

  2. I still remember when this came out and lots of people felt it didn’t live up to its hype because things weren’t as meated out. That’s what I liked about it though. It wasn’t about the war or the invading aliens or any of the high-tech crap, it was about two people that were lonely and trying to find a way to survive through their loneliness. It’s nice to see you talk about it here. I look forward to the next one.

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