In the genre of Movies Most Likely to Bore People to Tears, Mamoru Oshii’s animé adaptation of Hiroshi Mori’s novel stands well against Kubric’s 2001~A Space Odyssey.
Now that I have your attention, if you came here to read a glowing review – welcome, friend.
I’ve only met one Japanese person that I can recall. He was a ship’s captain of the Something-or-Other Maru back in 1967. Polite and gracious, he offered me a small gift for visiting his vessel. Being young and ignorant I learned little and observed less.
Yet decades of watching animé has taught me much about his nation’s artistic character and brought me, inexorably, to appreciate the Japanese contemplative approach to story telling.
They love detail, nuance, long silences.
Conversely, they’re overly partial to detail. Should the matter at hand seem to be getting too straight forward, brace for an exhaustive analysis down to minutiae. Expect unexpected biblical or classical references – perhaps a philosophical treatise during pause by an action hero.
It is these quirks and incongruities that deepens my love of less commercially successful lengthy offerings from the Japanese take on animated features: Evangelion, Ghost in the Shell, Garden of Sinners, Deathnote, Mardock, Appleseed, Eden of the East, Your Name, amongst so many.
Born to a culture bathed in Disney, delight is beyond exquisite to uncover the strikingly original, message-laden works of Studio Ghibli – a body of animated feature films that one’s life could be considered wasted to have missed.
For two hours almost nothing happens, and that’s why I love it.
Promoted as an action war movie, the long periods of little going on are shattered by several brilliantly rendered aerial dogfights and a spectacular attacking air armada that consumes barely 5 minutes overall. For that alone my money was well spent – especially when the Blu-ray uncompressed Dolby threw me out of the lounge in the opening sequence.
Unless your partner is of a peculiar bent, or has seen Sky Crawlers before, play safe and watch it alone.
An uninitiated companion will most likely not react favourably and the distraction will ruin your experience, and even prevent you from absorbing the full impact of Oshii-san’s intent. And his intent fills the comment section of online reviews with endless debate about “hikikomori” and “otaku” that can hinder any chance of a reasoned take, were you about to watch, or dilute your still formative impressions should you mistakenly partake that conversation after the event.
I watched Sky Crawlers in 2009 and instantly tagged it a favourite. Eleven years later – just now – I bought the Blu-ray to scratch a growing itch: a yearning to visit once more that strange future where war is waged by corporations to placate humankind’s base instincts.
The standard descriptor says the story plays out in an alternate history timeline. But, as science fiction is often termed speculative fiction, I choose to see this scenario in our future. An unlikely future, if AI is to shortly supersede us, but a possible one where technology stalls and civilisation becomes static.
The scenario is ostensibly thus:
Although the world is at peace, in order to ease the tension of a populace accustomed to war and aggression, private corporations contract fighter pilots to engage in actual combat operations against each other.
No spoiler alert here, for there’s no plot to speak of.
But at the very end, following the credits, a “little surprise” that – after your noting many odd references during the tale – might enable a guess at what was really going on, or what the heck you thought was.
Especially after an hour or two of not much apparently happening.
To the observant and sympathetic viewer, a lot was indeed going on.