Friday, September 12, 2008

TIFF'08 REVIEW: The Sky Crawlers - Mamoru Oshii (2008)

Reviewed by Thomas Silver

What if you had experienced a feeling that you’ve been someplace before or knew someone but never met them? Mamoru Oshii’s latest film The Sky Crawlers, based on the novel by Mori Hiroshi poses those questions in a rather unique way. The film opens with a spectacular aerial dogfight between unknown forces and the focus appears on an unknown nemesis simply known as, “The Teacher.”

Soon after we're introduced to Kannami, a new pilot transferred to a remote airbase, but a mystery greets him upon his arrival. He has a feeling of déjà vu upon meeting the chief mechanic and it’s compounded by the fact he has no recollection of his previous post, and the identity of the person he is to replace is shrouded in secrecy. One thing we learn is that Kannami is a “Kildren,” a teenager that doesn’t age and can only die if he is killed in battle. Kannami soon meets the rest of his squadron, and shortly thereafter the squad leader Kusanagi. Again Kannami feel a sense of familiarity with her but doesn’t know how or from where he knows her.

Things progress and we see that a constant state of war is raging in an alternate Europe by rival corporations as opposed to nations. The aerial battles of this war are broadcast on television and are a source of entertainment to the masses – it’s interesting to note that on both sides there seems to be no deciding power, in fact major offensives are halted in mid battle, theatres of operations are kept segregated for the most part and the planes used are based on vintage World War 2 aircraft despite taking place in present day as modern technology (personal computers, etc.) are seen throughout.

Mystery is added to mystery as Kannami searches for answers about the fate of Kusanagi’s former lover Jinroh, who is now revealed to be the pilot he has replaced. Other questions arise to why the pilots cannot remember their tasks or who “The Teacher” in his panther painted fighter plane really is.

The film features top voice talent such as Rinko Kikuchi (Babel) and Chiaki Kuriyama (Kill Bill) and at 122 minutes, which is considered long for an animated film, the story is well paced and is helped again by a haunting score from Kenji Kawai. The only thing that I found bothersome was the lack of cohesion between the use of the classic cell animation and the CGI that was used heavily throughout. The two tend to clash more than they seem to really work together. Despite this "The Sky Crawlers" is a worthy addition to Oshii's filmography... but one more note to pass along – without noting it as a spoiler, there is one final scene after the closing credits, so make sure to stick around at the end of the film!

Guest writer Thomas Silver is one of the founding members of UTARPA, the University of Toronto's Japanese Animation Club.

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