Saturday, July 28, 2012

The Sky Crawlers Anime Movie Review

The Sky Crawlers
Sony Pictures
Movie - 121 mins. - 1 disc
$34.95 (2009) Blu-Ray
$27.96 (2009)
ISBN 043396307520
Japanese/English Audio
English/French/Spanish Subtitles
Director - Mamoru Oshii
Studio - Production I.G

Synopsis: Yuichi Kannami is a fighter pilot reassigned to the base at Area 262 as a replacement for another pilot who died recently.  The plane he is assigned belonged to the deceased pilot, but its in perfect condition. Being curious as to what happened to the pilot he is replacing, Yuichi attempts to discover the pilot's cause of death from the base's commanding officer, Suito Kusanagi.  She appears to be a young woman and coldly brushes off his questions.
Yuichi Kannami arrives at Area 262
Three other pilots are stationed at the base - Aizu Yudagawa, Yuriyuki Shinota, and Naofumi Tokino.  Yuichi attempts to fit in, but only manages to befriend the reckless Naofumi.  The two bond during a trip to the nearby whorehouse where one of the escorts reveals her past relationship with the man Yuichi replaced, Jinro Kuita.  
Suito Kusanagi and Yuichi Kannami
Amidst the endless sorties and downtime ennui, Yuichi grapples with a disturbing mystery as puzzle pieces slowly reveal themselves in a greater picture.  He is one of the Kildren, a group of people who never age and can only die by being killed.  It appears they are exclusively fighter pilots in a neverending aerial war fought by rival corporations.  The young CO, Suito, is also a pilot and Kildren, but she has lived long enough to begin questioning the order of things.  A young girl visits the base - is it Suito's daughter?  Who could the father be?  Why is Yuichi irresistibly drawn to Suito despite her cold demeanor?
Yuichi and Naofumi pilot two push-prop planes on a sortie
The greatest mystery is what happened to Yuichi's predecessor, but will learning the cause of his death result in Yuichi's similar demise?  Something is not right in the war and on the base.  What is the origin of the Kildren and how does their existence fit into the larger whole of society?  The other side's ace pilot, "The Teacher", appears in the combat theater - will Yuichi and the pilots of Area 262 survive long enough to discover the cause for their predetermined existences? 
Yuichi learns about Jinro from a prostitute
Pros: Excellent computer graphics melded with seemingly hand-drawn animation, good soundtrack, suitably vague characterizations, captivating mystery by end of film, lots of extras, hardcore final dogfight, has received a lot of critical praise (won awards at the Venice and Sitges film festivals), the 'ah-ha!' moment when I was reminded of George Orwell's book 1984
Yuichi and crew participate in a massive aerial battle
Cons: Agonizingly slow-paced at times, characters (particularly Yuichi and Suito) have zero personalities, final scene with "The Teacher" was unsatisfying (guess that was the point), Kildren are not really explained until much later in the film, character facial designs are somewhat generic/simple
Yuichi and Suito have dinner and talk about existentialism
Mike Tells It Straight: Based on the first book in the novel series by Hiroshi Mori.  The pace of this film is incredibly slow, but it really works to build up the mystery of the Kildren and Yuichi's personal dilemma.  I liked the synergy between the computer graphics and traditional character animation - the two didn't noticeably clash.  The planes and dogfights were highly detailed CGI (completely obvious and unnatural), and while not perfect by any means they were much better than a score of other anime which attempt to do the same.
Naofumi and Yuichi make plans to hit the town before the big battle
By the end of the movie the great mystery is revealed and it all makes sense - the slow pace, Yuichi's bland personality, and a score of subtle atmospheric hints.  Watching the film I had a great 'ah-ha!' moment when I realized the connection between George Orwell's book 1984 about a totalitarian society where independent thought is a crime, information is suppressed by an all-powerful government (to the extent even history is rewritten constantly to suit the current party objectives), and nations are perpetually at war causing all sorts of food rationing/resource shortages.  Loved that book!
This image (w/fish-eye lens) pretty much sums up the whole film
If you have the patience and are looking for a vague, psychological mystery then The Sky Crawlers is your anime film.  Overall, I enjoyed it quite a bit, but was scratching my head half the time and have to admit it took me three sittings to finish watching it.  

TO BUY and Recommendations: