Voices of a Distant Star is a surprising piece of work. For one, it’s short, only running about 30 minutes. For another, it was created entirely on director Makoto Shinkai’s home computer. The style is classic Shinkai, with a loving addiction to sunset lighting – there are a few screenshots here which will be instantly familiar to anyone who has seen any other of Shinkai’s works (especially A Place Promised). The lush visual style is as distinctive in its own way as Miyazaki’s, and he shares the same obsession with young women heroines and flying machines. Given his obsession with lighting, he seems to rely heavily on subdued pastels rather than vibrant primary colors, which also lends his work an ethereal quality.
However, what i am seeing in Shinkai’s work is a pattern of obsession with ordinary technology, like trains and cell phones. The contrast is all the more striking given that his stories involve fantastic technologies alongside them, like space mecha, battle cruisers, and gigantic towers that double as dimensional portals. He seems to always insist on keeping the fantastical grounded in the ordinary; the main character in Voices, Mikako, is an elite Agent who is selected to pilot a giant mecha on a mission to combat hostile aliens, yet wears her schoolgirl outfit in the cockpit and sends text messages across the interstellar gulf to her boyfriend, using her battered Nokia mobile phone. It’s the peculiar realities and real-world physics limitations of the latter technology that drive the story, in fact, making it a very poignant and heartfelt little piece of work. I think the fact that it’s short really adds to its emotional heft.
Temptingly, Amazon has a Shinkai Collection DVD set, which includes both Place Promised and Voices, as well as a pile of extra short pieces. I think this is a no-brainer for me to pick up, assuming it ever gets back in stock.