Directed by Mamoru Oshii
Japan, 2008, animated, 121 min.
Two weeks ago, on Friday, December 12th, 2008, I had the joy of seeing the New York premiere of The Sky Crawlers, the newest animation from master director Mamoru Oshii (Ghost in the Shell) at the Film Society of Lincoln Center's Walter Reade Theater. There didn't seem to be an empty seat in this terrific venue for the 7:00 show, which I attended, and there was a big line waiting for the other screening that night. So it seems that two full, or nearly full, houses got to enjoy one helluva terrific film.
is based on a series of five books by MORI Hiroshi, who is well known for his mystery novels. (Here I've written his name as I understand he insists it be done, family name first and all-in-caps.) In an alternate reality, war as we know it has been replaced by corporate-sponsored combat between rival air forces. The pilots are known as Kildren, adolescent youths who never age and who seem to exist only to engage in combat.
The Sky Crawlers
I've been interested in aviation since elementary school and have seen a lot of films related to flight and air combat. The aerial scenes and dogfights in this film are terrific, all the more amazing because they're animated.
The story's central character is Yuichi and we meet him as he is assigned to a new base and plane. The base commander is Suito, another Kildren, and a rather strange, intimate relationship develops between the two of them. Yuichi also develops another relationship with a prostitute, a normal human; she and one of her co-workers are kind of fighter pilot groupies.
The attention to detail in the film is incredible, though not surprising since Oshii is directing. As the opening credits are ending, the camera's viewpoint is from under the nose of a plane coming in for a landing. Between the camera and the ground are letters forming the credits for the director.
The credit letters cast shadows on the ground, and the shadows actually become larger as the plane comes closer to the ground, just as they would if they were real objects. And during a dogfight early in the film, bullet casings can be seen coming out of the wing machine guns of a fighter! (See the picture at the top of this post.)
Two of my favorite young Japanese actresses provide character voices for the film. Rinko Kikuchi (Funky Forest: The First Contact and Babel) does that of base commander Suito Kusanagi. Chiaki Kuriyama (Kill Bill: Vol.1 and Exte: Hair Extensions) provides the voice for Mitsuya. (I believe that's the prostitute Yuichi hooks up with, but I'm not positive.)
In The Sky Crawlers, Oshii has created not only another visually stunning animation, but one that poses a number of intriguing questions about youth, memory, and the difficulties in forging connections, whether one is a kildren or a normal human.
ACF rating: 3.5 out of 4 stars. A must-see for anime´fans, and a should-see for everyone else.
The Sky Crawlers @ YouTube.
Mamoru Oshii @ YouTube.
(I came across these convenient links at JapanSugoi, an interesting website devoted to "Everything Cool about Japan.")