With the phenomenal international success of Your Name, the mainstream movie industry has finally had its introduction to director Makoto Shinkai, a man they may consider one of Japan’s best kept secrets or a promising up-and-comer for the coveted crown of “Next Miyazaki”. Those assumptions aren’t exactly rooted in truths however, as the auteur’s name has been celebrated by anime fans since his debut over fifteen years ago. Whether your interest in Makoto Shinkai has just been piqued, or you wish to commemorate his journey, Anime Limited’s new dual-pack release is the best way to experience Shinkai’s earliest features: Voices of a Distant Star and The Place Promised In Our Early Days.
Voices Of A Distant Star (2002)
An employee of video game developer Falcom (Ys series) with only a couple of short films under his belt, a single drawing would inspire Makoto Shinkai’s first major work: a young girl, sat in a cockpit, grasping a mobile phone. After being approached and offered funding by Mangazoo, Shinkai left Falcom to work on Voices of a Distant Star full time; writing, directing and animation the 25-minute long project by himself; with only his then-girlfriend co-starring alongside him (in the original dub; included as a special feature), with composition by his friend Tenmon.
A painfully familiar story set to a science fiction backdrop, Voices of a Distant Star is the tale of two school friends’ struggle with the increasing distance brought about by their increasing duties in life. Mikako Nagamine is but a schoolgirl when she is enlisted by the UN Space Army to fight an alien threat, taking her increasingly further away from Earth and Noboru Terao. The two keep in touch via email, but will the increasing distance and delivery time become too much of a burden to bare?
As you can imagine from the humble beginnings, Voices of a Distant Star admittedly looks very rough, with the character designs and CG in particular looking very unpolished. Despite this, the short film gives plenty of room for Makoto Shinkai to showcase the skills he would later be known by – his photo-realistic animation, breathtaking backgrounds and emotional, human stories.
The ideal way to watch Voices of a Distant Star is with the professional Japanese dub, although it should be noted that while this release offers both 2.0 and 5.1 audio options, the latter is out of sync (of which the distributor has been informed). Additionally, this release includes Makoto Shinkai’s original dub as a bonus feature.
Despite its short running time, Voices of a Distant Star does a spectacular job of showcasing its characters’ humanity, making it easier for viewers to understand and sympathise with the difficult positions they find themselves in; offering us a small glimpse at what Makoto Shinkai has to offer. Given his new-found celebrity, I would love to see this story re-visited with the same stunning visuals Shinkai’s more recent works are known for.
The Place Promised In Our Early Days (2014)
The first feature-length feature from our now renowned director can in many ways be seen as a precursor to Your Name. While narratively disconnected, the two share themes not only with themselves, but also Voices of a Distant Star and each time they resurface reinvented and stronger than ever.
In a Japan divided, three middle school students make a promise: to rebuild a fallen plane and fly together to the Hokkaido Tower; an ominous structure erected in the now-captured Hokkaido. The two teenage boys, Hiroki Fujisawa and Takuya Shirakawa, are left disheartened when Sayuri Sawatari mysteriously disappears over the summer.
Three years later and the boys have walked down different paths that, through political espionage, parallel dreams and perhaps fate, come winding back together.
Opening with all the nuances of a quiet teen romance, The Place Promised In Our Early Days has a pleasant, steady and idyllic opening act that takes its time introducing viewers to its principle trio, before the film’s science fiction leanings start to take centre stage for longer than they should. When the focus returns to our teen trio though, a wonderfully romantic use of dreams ties everything together into a spectacular, breathtaking finale.
Fortunately, Shinkai was no longer alone in animating his movies, with the combination of his eye for detail and CoMix Wave Films’ superb animation conjuring intricate, beautiful images far exceeding their time and even other anime films released twelve years later. Whether it’s the dull, cold of a hospital room or the bright magnificence of a twilight sky, the wondrous work of Shinkai and the animation team perfectly capture the mood of every scene, making The Place Promised In Our Early Days essential viewing for the visual spectacle alone.
In an on-disc interview, Makoto Shinkai noted a preference of not watching earlier films, our of fear of finding ways to improve them, but the contrast between Voices of a Distant Star and The Place Promised In Our Early Days being like night and day despite only two years between them is a powerful show of strength from Makoto Shinkai; a sign of how talent can flourish if given the acknowledgement it deserves. Each new film is a giant step forward and with his latest, Your Name, he may have reached the top.
Included as a bonus feature, is also Makoto Shinkai’s, She and Her Cat (1999), a five-minute short film about the relationship between a cat and its owner, as told from the cat’s perspective. She and Her Cat won several awards, including the 2000 DoGA CG Animation Contest Grand Prize.
Title: The Place Promised In Our Early Days / Voices of a Distant Star Twin-Pack
Production: CoMix Wave Films
Distributor: Anime Limited)
Platform(s): Blu-ray + DVD Combi-Pack
Version Reviewed: Blu-ray
Released: Out Now!
Disclosure: A copy of “The Place Promised In Our Early Days / Voices of a Distant Star” was supplied by Anime Limited, the distributor, for the purposes of this review.
“Your Name” is showing in cinemas across the United Kingdom and Ireland now – to book tickets, please visit the official official website.