From the award-winning director of the critically acclaimed anime film "Ghost in the Shell", Momuru Oshii, comes another award-winning tale of heroes that have eternal youth, waging a battle they can barely understand. Based on the novel by Mori Hiroshi and adapted for the screen by Chihiro Ito, Oshii's newest film captures powerful thought-provoking commentary about the evils of war and the price of peace, in a world where corporations wage war and young warriors can be legally murdered. "Sky Crawlers" is a dramatic film that has gorgeous animation and displays fantastic dogfights; and along all this massive commercial appeal and science fiction undertone, the film maintains a soul.
There is a war between Lautern and Rostock corporations, and the very real wars are staged within a "theater area". "Kildrens" are fighter pilots bio-engineered to stay young and never to reach adulthood--they are trained to wage furious dogfights above the clouds. A young pilot, Yuichi Kannami only has his childhood memory made up of intense dogfights, and the teenage pilot struggles with the fragmented feelings of a lost past. When his beautiful commanding officer Suito Kusanagi (voiced by Rinko Kikuchi) refuses to disclose information on the fate of the pilot that Yuichi is replacing, added to the fact that the new plane he is now using is in such pristine condition, Yuichi's curiosity threatens to take hold of him.
Momuru Oshii once again succeeds in bringing his audience to a world where wars are waged without the innocent casualties, but it still results in the loss of innocence and the price of peace may still be too high a price to pay. Oshii brings powerful commentary about the necessities of war, that misery may be necessary to sustain peace so that society can have the illusion of order. The way the film is structured is excellent as Oshii slowly but methodically brings us to understand this surreal world. It is curious that the time and place is almost unspecified, but I think it would be safe to assume that this is a futuristic world, a near dystopian post apocalyptic future because of the advances in bio-engineering. However, it is also quite curious that this world would use "propeller-driven" aircraft with designs that looked very advance; it is an odd mixing of future and past tech, this was intentionally meant to emulate this world's past history of bloody wars and that nuclear weapons should be kept out of the picture.
This world uses young warriors to fight their wars, and these pilots are ones with no family and little memories of their past. The film revolves around the relationship between Kusanagi and Kannami, the mysteries of their past life that carries a lot of effective dramatic elements that is the film's main showstopper. Questions such as; when can human experiences prove more than enough? Just how much can one strong individual bear before they can begin to break down? Oshii brings a very dark vision as to how this world can use these human beings to almost fight forever, whose existence can only be ended when they are killed. Oshii brings a true emotional experience, as the viewer is slowly brought to the lives of Kusanagi and Kannami. The direction is powerful and enthralling enough to keep the viewer absorbed in its human drama. I cannot reveal anymore without spoiling the film, but I can tell you this much, the twist and turns in the film's structure are touching, surprisingly outstanding in the manner that it plays the plot's key elements.
The characters in "Sky Crawlers" feel very real, and you can easily make an attachment to them. The most interesting character of all would have to be Suito Kusanagi (curiously carries a strong resemblance to the major in Ghost in the Shell), and most of the film's burden falls on her. Mitsuya (voiced by Chiaki Kuriyama) didn't show up until the film's third act, but the significance of her character is beautifully played by Oshii. The animation is a blend of 3-D graphics and it seems to me that the only 2-D animation rendered may be the characters. Some may feel the simplicity on the characters' rendition may be a little out of place but I rather liked the fact that the animation helmed by Nishikubo Toshihiko was kept grounded and a little restrained. I would not like an overload of special effects to overshadow exactly what the film is trying to say. Yes, the film is an emotionally driven melodrama, with nicely placed sequences of dogfights ONLY to keep it interesting; but the aerial battles aren't the film's main draw. Those looking for fast-paced action are better off looking elsewhere.
The film isn't perfect though, as it doesn't really draw upon the stakes as to why this war is being fought. The corporations lacked (ahem) development, and the life outside the lives of our squadron are only hinted at and never truly fleshed out. Besides some minor plot limitations imposed by itself, the film does remain strong in its brilliant simplicity. I liked the mysterious "Teacher" in a plane with a "black jaguar" in its nose, I was reminded of the "Red Baron" in World War One--a supposedly ace pilot that any encounter with him may mean certain death. It added a certain different air of mystery, although some parts felt a little forced; but it doesn‘t really hurt the movie. This is also NOT your children's anime film, as besides its darkly thought-provoking premise, there are hinted at sex and mild nudity. This film is rightfully rated PG-13.
"Sky Crawlers" may have a somewhat bizarre title, but believe me when I say that this anime film is very much worth a spin. Much like Oshii's "Ghost in the Shell", the film manages to find a soul, with a well-structured story that hits all the right spots. Remarkably simple, and astonishingly thought-provoking, the film manages to instill our emotions. During these times, it makes us wonder what exactly are the young men and women are sacrificing to safeguard peace and order. Just how exactly can war affect an individual? Would each kill affect their soul?
Highly Recommended! [4 ½ Out of 5 Stars]
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