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It is hard to write a coherent review of The Sky Crawlers without
revealing major plot twists, but I will try. I advise you to see the
movie without reading too much about it beforehand so that you can
enjoy and think about what happens without bias. Do stick around for
the epilog after the closing credits.
The Sky Crawlers is a thought-provoking alternate history that will appeal to literate science fiction fans. Mainstream audiences will undoubtedly be bored and confused by what happens in the film. The film examines weighty themes such as the meaning of war and the nature of memories. I was reminded of the recent death of famous amnesiac "HM" while watching The Sky Crawlers, as some of the characters suffer from a similar type of memory loss. Why they suffer this loss is one of the twists that will either spark heated discussion or bewilderment afterward. Like most good science fiction, The Sky Crawlers presents somewhat ambiguous characters and ideas. It is up to the viewer to interpret the meaning.
What worked: The CGI aerial combat sequences were amazingdizzying and spectacular, with intricately designed air vehicles that spurred the imagination. The characters' emotional depths were thoroughly minedalthough not always pleasantly so. The character design and art direction were top notchthe CGI segments were almost photo-realistic, and the 2D segments were beautifully drawn and lighted, too. The Basset Hound was cute.
What didn't work: The pacing was slowthis is a psychological drama, not an action adventureand could have benefited from some judicious editing. Although I found the transitions from CGI to 2D and back to be perfectly fine, particularly after getting into the rhythm of the film, many viewers will likely find the transitions jarring.
If your tastes run more towards Blade Runner or A Clockwork Orange, you will probably appreciate The Sky Crawlers. If your tastes lean more towards Star Wars or The Incredibles, I advise you to see something else.
The Sky Crawlers seem to live up to its name, that it really took its
time to tell a story, but in doing so, allowed for the narrative to
sink in. After all, it's brought to us by Mamoru Oshii, and as far as
his filmography goes, this Japanese maestro's works is often deep, and
have more than enough room for multiple viewings, each time allowing
you to take away something different, or unnoticed from the previous
Adapted by Chihiro Itou from Hiroshi Mori's story, you could see the themes that this movie had that would interest Oshii to be at the helm. They are nothing relatively new, as fans would see some similarities in the characters' struggle about their own existentialism, and what I enjoyed most, the connected thread between war and peace. It's like the notion of having to prepare for war that you get to enjoy some peace, and I guess every National Serviceman would have heard that at one point or another during their tour of duty.
While one can find some distinct parallels from Americanized films that pay homage or blatantly ripping off Oshii's earlier works, what I thought could have been toned down, was how toward the end, subtlety wasn't the rule of thumb, and almost every theory got explained verbatim. There were enough unanswered questions along the way to tickle your brain, leaving you guessing and drawing your own conclusions, but there were at least two crystal clear moments that decided to tell all and show all, taking away most of the fun. So in a way, you have less room to maneuver your thoughts during that after-movie discussion with friends.
I could imagine and understand any kid sitting inside a theatre hall having absolutely no patience for this masterpiece. Except for the opening sequence which had packed in the action at Top Gun pace, one's notion that this was going to be a war-action movie gets thrown out the window within 10 minutes. Naturally it has the potential to go in that direction by playing up and extending the aerial dogfights, but to do so would be to dumb this film down a lot of notches.
Granted its characters are pilots, and kid pilots at that, "Kildren" (I would like to think of it as Killer-Children) who don't seem to grow up, get careers in Corporations that seem to be waging war on behalf of nations, and pilot propeller-powered warplanes to engage their enemy in attacking and defending routines. Heck, there's even a Red Baron equivalent as the resident bogeyman too! They smoke, they kill (up in the air) and they make love, with nary an adult batting an eyelid, that you would deem them all turning a blind eye to their kids' shenanigans (of course there's a reason for this). Imagine the adults being quite nonchalant, and some even supportive, of kids fighting wars while they go about their daily lives, being quite unaffected other than being a feature in news bulletins.
So we follow the adventures, and mysteries weaved amongst the characters of Kannami Yuichi (voiced by Ryo Kase), base commander Kusanagi (Rinko Kikuchi of Babel fame, who had also collaborated in Oshii's omnibus movie Kill under the segment Assault Girl 2). The remaining supporting characters serve out their primary purpose, such as Tokino (Shosuke Tanihara) as the wingman/buddy, and Mitsuya (Chiaki Kruiyama, Kill Bill's Gogo Yubari) as the tell-all mouthpiece, which I thought that even without, the coda after the end credits roll would have summed it all up nicely.
This is Japanese anime, so its quality is excellent, with some really photo-realistic moments, and aerial dogfights that look as real as if they really built those planes and shot them in mid air. John Woo would also be proud at how balletic the shoot-em-ups can get, pulling back its punches as well to avoid any explicitness in its violence. The main theme of the soundtrack is extremely hypnotic and would linger on you for some time after the end credits roll. After all, it's by Kenji Kawai.
This is not an action movie, period. If that's the kind of movie you're expecting, then my advice would be to save your ticket money. If you're looking toward something that's more contemplative, and dealing with themes that would make you think along the way (until the two mentioned moments where the hints get more obvious), and maybe even appreciate life a little more, then march up to the box office when this opens next week. Highly recommended, and definitely a contender when I compile the top ten list for the year!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Imagine an animation whose driving metaphor is the sky, bustling with
clouds and fighter planes. I would bet you are already thinking of
adjectives like "action" and "fast-paced" to describe such a film.
Well, think again.
In fact, Mamoru Oshii's latest feature film is surprisingly low-key. Fans of his previous work will not be disappointed, but even those familiar with his typical moody antics and his meandering, self-reflective style (from movies like Ghost in the Shell or Avalon) may find the pace of this film hard-going. Characters are distant and understated. Places are remote and static. Action is fleeting and almost random. Dialogue is sparse and vague. All of this makes for a challenging experience.
How, though, does it pay off? How does the film pull it off? Well, it is difficult to explain this without either giving too much away or saying far too little, but the main point is perfectly understandable without any spoilers: The salvaging fact of the movie is its logical progression towards perfect explication of its premises, towards perfect self-explanation. This film pays off wonderfully towards the end. The way it does it is being faithful to its own pace and rhythm. Yes: characters may be understated - but for a reason. Yes: places are remote - but for a reason. And on and on, so it goes... There will be a moment when everything just clicks into place. The serenity and straight-forwardness of the film is also its greatest strength. It is like a long algebraic expression that crunches away slowly in the background but ultimately overwhelms the viewer in a "Heureka!" moment. For a film that starts opaque, everything becomes transparent by the end. It doesn't rely on tricks or cheating the audience. It is a perfectly honest, and also perfectly brutally realist film. It makes explicit references to Camus, and this makes sense, in the context of the classically existentialist questions the movie raises. For its theme and mood, it feels very European and American (it even features quite a bit of English dialogue) and there's no Japanese "cutesy-ness" in the film. It is a very serious and mature movie, in a way that combines the best of both European literature and Japanese culture.
Despite its universal and abstract nature, and despite its stylized "alternative American" backdrop, the best reference point for the style of the film is the cinema of the masters of Japanese understatement, Yasujirô Ozu and Akira Kurosawa. Indeed, the movie's subtle aesthetic eye belongs to the tradition of the Japanese outlook on life crystallized in the concept of "mono no aware" (translatable as "transience of things"). If the movie is existentialist, it is so in a way that only a Japanese film can be. The movie, then, is very Japanese and very universal. It combines realism with symbolic and science-fiction elements in a way that is reminiscent of the equally slow-paced "spiritual materialism" of the master director Andrei Tarkovsky.
So, Sky Crawlers succeeds because it starts out with banally normal situations and people but, by the end, increasingly problematizes its own deceptive normalcy and shows the underlying tensions bubbling under the calm surface. In other words, the film is both straightforward and complex, both obvious and difficult, both down-to-earth and transcendent. This contrast between "ground" and "air" is, in a very obvious way, incorporated into the plot - it is, after all, a movie about pilots and airplanes, both on the ground and in the air. This is obvious, right? Well, yes, it is obvious, but it's also very difficult to comprehend and appreciate. This film doesn't show heroes or heroic deeds, it shows people in difficult situations. This movie is not about pilots and planes, but about what those pilots and planes represent. The symbolism of the film is very subtle, but it is this very subtlety that makes it so strong and compelling when it finally hits you! Slowly (as is intended) you get to see the greatness of this film, and the gravity of its themes. Like in Tolstoy's "War and Peace", the true genius is not in the description of banal dinner parties or whatever, but in the way all of this "normal" interaction is shown to be a facade through a careful elaboration of the underlying themes. A huge kudos to the script, which is an exercise in humanity and subtlety.
This marvelous ability of the film to be read on many levels at once - literal and allegorical - is what makes it such a pleasure to watch, at least for the most part. The pacing may be difficult, yes, but the pay-off is immense. It reminds me a little of David Lynch's "The Straight Story" where the simplicity of the plot is what makes it so good. The bottom line, you don't need to think about Camus, Ozu or Ghost in the Shell to appreciate this film. Even if it's not exactly easy entertainment, it works on the surface level of science fiction anime. I mean, it's simple (some would say banal), it's low-key (boring), it's marvelously atmospheric (slooow). All those qualifications can be read as good or bad signs, but if you're willing to invest a bit of time and effort into digesting the theme and message of the movie, you will be glad you did so, because Mamoru Oshii has given us another masterwork of adult animation.
It's astonishing how much heart and soul writer Hiroshi Mori and Ghost
In The Shell director Mamoru Oshii managed to incorporate in this
gently told, unique story despite the remote, but at the same time also
strangely deep nature of it's characters. The discreet use of the
beautiful visuals serves the movie - not the other way round - and
though pretty slow-paced and without major cataclysms Sky Crawlers
manages to keep up a fascinating and unique atmosphere till the very
I think everyone with a heart and an open mind will recognize this one as a rare gem.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Mamoru Oshii's newest film utterly confounded most of the people around
me at tonight's New York Screening. There was lots of "What the hell
was that"s and "I liked it up to the end's" (which was really not the
end because Oshii appeared in a recorded message welcoming us to the
New York premiere, saying a few words about the film and admonishing us
to stay to the end, which he didn't specify as after the end credits
where a five minute sequence takes place-so half the audience was gone
by the time it ran-and yes it alters things. The main message Oshii
gave us was that the film is about children who are pilots who don't
This is the story of a world thats like our own but different. Its a place where corporations seem to control everything and everyone is engaged in a war that is actually more like a national game. Fighting the war are the eternally young kildren, young adults who never age and who can die it seems if they do so in combat. Into this mix, or rather to an outpost of four planes, comes a new pilot, a nice young man who seems to feel he remembers being here before. Of course he's wrong but everything is a blur.
I don't know how much more to tell you. the story that spins out from one of the most incredible sky battle action sequences put on film, is something that really needs to be seen on its own terms to be truly appreciated. What I can say is that the flying sequences, rendered in hyper realistic animation, is amazing. They are the reason to see the film on a movie screen, preferably a BIG movie screen if you get the chance. Its truly amazing. They are utterly beautiful...and terrifying.
I have to make it clear the sky sequences are not what the film is about. the film is about the pilots and their commander who face the day to day existence of getting by and fighting a war. The film deals with the daily grind of the people involved and you get to feel what their lives are like. At the same time the film is very deliberately paced. the film is what could be best described as slow. I didn't mind but some people around me did, wanting to know why there wasn't more action. Actually the action is almost an after thought or away of punctuating themes and ideas Oshii has running around in his head. This is not a film of physical motion but of intellectual.
What the people around me didn't seem to grasp was that this is a film by Mamoru Oshii, who may have made Ghost in the Shell, but he's also made some other really wild and trippy films about the nature of reality, memory, what it is to be human and other ideas. As an intellectual work the film is firing on all cylinders. Oshii has made a film that is about all of that and more, including the nature of war and the world. The action is secondary to the human story since the human story is where all of the meat is. The story of the new guy slowly morphs moving in to several other directions, including a mystery of sorts, the solution of which may appear to be obvious, but it raises other more intriguing themes like who are we really (I don't dare mention some of the others since to fully explore them will reveal major pot points).
In my humble opinion this is a great film. The friend and I who went with me to see the film, began talking as soon as the film really ended and we didn't stop talking about it until I left him on the train almost three hours later. Yes there were other subjects discussed during that three hours but we kept coming back to the film (he liked it but didn't love it, however he agreed that there is something to the film because it forces you to be engaged in a dialog about it. Not only does Oshii discuss big ideas but there are so many plot points and world points that are thrown out there that are never resolved that you can just keep pondering what happens at times. If you like films that you think about and argue about and which go their own way, you will love this movie.
Let me be honest I doubt most people are going to like this film. I don't know if most people are going to "get" this film. I think most people are going to wonder why there is not more action and why its "so slow". I know the people around me were wondering if that was it, as if the lack of a clear resolution (especially when they didn't stay through the credits) some how made the film something less then it was. I liked the lack of complete closure since it allowed my mind to wonder (besides you can see how the story may continue)
If you can take the film on its own terms and take it for the film of ideas it is, I think you'll like the film, possibly even love it. Don't fight it. And do stay through the end credits since whats there is important (think of the credits as a natural break, which frankly it is, it is one of the few films I've ever seen where the final sequence needs to be there, it needs the break of several minutes to function as it does). One of the better (best?) films of the year.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Oshii Mamoru's films really seem to divide people. Those who've loved
his films so far will find lots to enjoy here. And those who don't will
probably complain about poor animation and too much talking.
Actually the story is a lot more straightforward (as far as Oshii is ever 'straightforward') than Innocence but the world presented here is quite a tricky one to get your head around if you start thinking too much about it. And of course, half the fun of an Oshii movie is thinking too much...
If you liked Jin Roh, you'll probably like this.
So anyway, the world: It's kind of Europe. It's sort of WWII. But then again it's kind of science fiction too. But actually it's not any of these. It's a fantasy world which exists firmly in Oshii's mind, neither post-apocalyptic far-future nor alternative history.
So, there's this group of Japanese pilots, fighting (for a free world) some unspecified enemy (the other team) in what appears to be England, then maybe Poland on what they call the European NORTHERN front (according to the Japanese/English newspapers) and of course the colour TV reports in the American style diner they hang out in... You get the idea. It's a weird mix of nostalgic war-time imagery. In a world which seems to have no national borders where everything is run by corporations.
After an initial exciting CG action scene (with really cool engine noises, if ya like that sort of thing - and Oshii obviously does!) the characters are presented. The 2D animation is quite a shock at first after the smooth CG. It doesn't quite fit. But then again, lots of things 'don't quite fit' in this movie. It's one of the main themes. Oshii keeps introducing strange things about his world throughout while characters muse on the meaning of life and stuff (as Oshii characters are want to do).
What's real? What's not? Why are we here? and, refreshingly, Let's not worry too much about it and go bowling.
There are several revelations about the world the characters inhabit, but it never gets too confusing and Oshii allows you to figure things out for yourself as the movie progresses at its own slow pace (I don't need to point out that Oshii's movies tend to be quite a bit slower than usual anime, do I?). And just in case you need some confirmation about part of the mystery, there's a final shot after the end credits which kind of sums up.
It's probably best not to read too much about the plot. Make up your own mind what's going on.
So, it's a mystery/fantasy/Sci-Fi/alternative history/meaning of life/war movie. Go watch Jin Roh, if you're bored to tears, you probably won't like this either. I loved it!
The Sky Crawlers: (Sukai Kurora):7 out of 10: This is an adult
anime...In fact this is a very adult anime. No there isn’t copious
amounts of fan service or blood. (In fact the film is rated PG-13
primarily for smoking.) Instead Sky Crawlers has a very quiet, reserved
pacing. It’s a two hour anime that feels like it clocks in at over
three hours. Not boring per se but very deliberately paced with adult
conversations, adult music and an overall adult tone that reminds one
of Before Sunrise with occasional airborne dogfight to break up the
The plot is both light (I will reveal that here) and quite heavy (I will let the movie itself surprise you with its philosophical underpinnings). On the light side is there is a special group of teenagers who are pilots that never grow old. The movie refers to them as Kildren and much is made of how they are just kids; but if you drive, fly, have sex, drink, and smoke a pack every 10 minutes of screen time your are at best a teen and in reality a young adult.
These Kildren fight in retro WW2 style aircraft against each other in an air war with no winners and no other casualties all to apparently satiate the public’s need for conflict. (Think Star Trek’s “A Taste of Armageddon”). There is a new pilot, a wingman and a couple of androgynous love interests with deep secret pasts. There is even a Red Baron character rumored to be an adult and a constant source of tension and conversation in both the dogfights and on the ground.
The Animation is simply awe inspiring. The CGI work is better than many a Hollywood blockbuster and the 2 dimensional cell shaded characters fit both the pacing and the mood of the film. The attention to detail is quite amazing overall.
Overall the film is recommended for fans of adult drama and serious anime. I do confess I did wish for longer sky battles, more realistic violence and even some fan service. It is ironic that one of the most adult anime I have ever seen suffers from a lack of adult thrills with its PG-13 rating.
Just occasionally, you'll find a film where thew execution of drama
over powers your awareness that the film is animated.
The Japanese style is arguable the most exploitative of animation, which is why Mamoru Oshii's rather minimal and refined approach which he brings to The Sky Crawlers is extraordinary in it way. The film is rather static with little physical movement, elongated cutting, wide open Kurosawa type shots, psychological use of color, light and shadow, and a haunting and mystic score. The film is kind of cold, but with a scene of mystery which makes it seductive. Even when we are up in the air with dozens of aircraft, gunfire, and spectacular balls of fire, the film maintains it's sense of calm. Oshiii handles it almost like a ballet. This is not a kids movie, and it's not for those with a short attention span. It it a deep slow psychological piece.
The ending is one that may divide an audience. Some will see it as giving The Sky Crawlers a sense of moral function, while others will argue that it makes the whole thing seem useless. I won't take either side. All I'll say is that I enjoyed the flight.
I'll admit, it was difficult to get into the right mood to watch "Sky
Crawlers." I was expecting one thing, a war film, and while there were
moments of that, I found myself confronted with a world full of
characters with human concerns, and a strict atmosphere that called
upon the audience to pay attention to the details.
Having watched and enjoyed other films by Oshii (this one most resembling "Avalon" in tone and theme), I knew that I'd be in for something demanding and stoic, but I was also surprised by just how initially uncharismatic the two main characters were. However, as the film progressed, I found myself drawn in by their mysterious histories, and eventually deeply sympathizing with their tragedy.
To explain the nature of the pilots is to spoil the film, but rest assured, every frustration and question you have concerning the characters is answered by the end just make sure you sit through the end of the credits! However, whether or not you are satisfied in the end is another question entirely. While the chaotic, crowd-pleasing dogfights and strikingly rendered landscapes are sure to get a rise out of any audience, the mystery of the characters themselves is initially impenetrable and unwelcoming.
On the other hand, Oshii's depiction of emotionally mature, personally tortured characters is a unique landmark in animation. While there have been other animated films concerned with serious character drama, few of them have chosen to completely eschew melodrama with the exacting discipline of this film.
The film strikes a strange balance between frenetic action scenes and serious character exploration. It won't please everyone. But if you enter "Sky Crawlers" with an open mind, you may find something exciting, brutal, and heartbreaking here.
I have to try to write a short review to avoid spilling out any beans
But all I wanted to say is, this movie is like a bible - its hidden
meaning is totally unlike what it seems from merely its outer
appearance. If you cannot think outside the box or if you cannot treat
this anime as coming from a surreal genre that requires a high level of
intellectual thought to peel off its layers, then you are not prepared
to embrace its true power.
For those of you who are ready, just think of the Children and keep this thought throughout while watching this movie (which is understandably made at an ultra-slow pace). It forms the basis of the link between things happening in the movie against something that is already apparent in real life. If you need more clues, please read Oshii's interviews online on his intention of making this movie.
Otherwise, if you get any of the mind-blowing revelation, once you uncovered something along those lines, that caught me off-guard like a plane shooting up sky-high, you will probably feel that 10 stars are not enough for this masterpiece either.
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