“Will it reach?”
Mikako, a 15-year-old who is piloting a mecha on a UN mission to defend earth from an alien threat, asks this question. Does she mean the text message she is sending? Or does she mean her heartfelt feelings toward the intended recipient, Noboru?
As is common in Makoto Shinkai films, the answer is left to interpretation.
Voices of a Distant Star, Shinkai’s first film proper, begins the theme of distance, which permeates his work. Only 30 minutes long, and famously produced entirely on a Power Mac, the film follows Mikako as she goes on her mission, leaving behind Noboru, with whom she has a budding romance. The hook of the story is in the angst that occurs as Mikako sends messages to Noboru which take months, and then years to reach him. Noboru is many years older when he receives a partial text from his middle school friend.
These two children (and in Noboru’s case, extending to his adulthood) experience significant pain due to distance. The emphasis is perhaps on the feelings we have when we’re separated from one with whom we’re in love, but on an epic scale, extending literal light years. Add to that an inference that isn’t explicitly explored – Noboru is awaiting word for someone who might be dead.
The angst of it all is both painful and wonderful for the viewer! It’s easy for us to connect with their lovesickness and also with their difficulties. We all have trials we endure. And for many of us, during these trials, we’ve also called out to someone, maybe without receiving an answer.
Have you ever asked God to help you make it out of a difficulty, either out of desperation despite disbelief or as part of your faith? I’m willing to bet that in most cases, you don’t receive a response, not an audible one at least. And in circumstances, not the one you had asked for either.
In the hardest of times, where is God?
The answer is this: God is in our strength.
In Voices, there are moments when Mikako speaks to differently aged versions of herself. Whether real or hallucinated, the versions give her advice (and even words of prophecy). Among them is this jewel:
To become an adult, pain is necessary, too.
How true. How true.
It seems to me that our goal in the west in this day and age is to live a life as pleasurable as possible. And part of accomplishing that is to avoid pain and hurt. But when we do that, whether for ourselves or as parents for our children, we do ourselves and them a disservice. Because it is through pain that we grow up.
God often doesn’t deliver us miraculously and instantly through challenges in life – health concerns, depression, broken relationships. But when we turn to Him, He provides us strength to make it through. We will survive and even flourish because of the hurt. And when a road seems impossibly long and bleak, we do our best to let go of ourselves and let Him take control. As in the Footsteps poem, we should let Jesus carry us through the pain. Note that He doesn’t speed us away – He takes is through it.
Voices of a Distant Star shows the pain of the protagonists – years of mental anguish for Noboru and fear and trepidation for Mikako. But the ending note is hopeful, if unclear. The manga, according to Wikipedia, is a bit clearer:
Alternatively, in the manga 16 years old Mikako sends a message to 25 years old Noboru, telling him that she loves him. By this time Noboru has joined the UN, who have launched a rescue mission for the Lysithea. When Mikako hears the news from her crew mate that that UN is sending help for their rescue, she consults a list of people on the mission, Noboru being one of them. She ends by saying that they will definitely meet again.
And that, too, is our end. We’ll march through the trial – held and led by God, if we’re faithful enough to let Him – and shall be rescued in the end. God’s promises demonstrate this. All we must do is listen to Christ’s still small voice from somewhere far beyond a distant star, but as close as our hearts. I am Immanuel. I am God with you.