Oshii Mamoru, director of Ghost in the Shell and its sequel, is very well known in both the American anime fandom and the American artist’s community for his striking visuals, attention to environment and detail, and philosophy-charged narratives. With that in mind, I attended the US premiere showing of Oshii’s latest movie, The Sky Crawlers, adapted from a novel by Mori Hiroshi. Even if it didn’t turn out to be a good movie, I at least knew that I was in for something interesting. In recent years, the declining birthrate has beeen a major issue in Japanese society, and a lot of the suspects fingered have to do with the idea that the youth of japan is having a difficult time accepting the responsibilities of adulthood. The Sky Crawlers, being a movie about literally eternal youths, seeks to address this topic.
The Sky Crawlers is set in the middle of a long war where battles are mainly fought up in the sky by small groups of planes. Kildren, humans who cannot age past a certain point, are a common sight on the battlefield. Kannami Yuuichi, a skilled pilot called into a small base in the middle of nowhere as a replacement, is himself a kildren. Upon arriving, Kannami is initially struck by a strange sense of déjà vu, especially around the female base commander and fellow kildren Kusanagi Suito, but is quickly drawn into the daily routine of a war with no end in sight, unsure of where life will take those who refuse to grow up.
Whatever the intended message is, the delivery used in Sky Crawlers is very unusual. Yes, there are characters. Yes, there is a plot that I’ve described to you. How much they actually matter to the movie as a whole, however, is something I am unable to determine, at least not without a second viewing. Major plot points are delivered quickly and casually, with no clear distinction that they’ve just occurred, and overall the purpose of the movie seems to go beyond telling a story about people doing things to achieve a goal. Whether it’s fighting, talking, relaxing, or having sex, the events in the movie and the elements of the story all intentionally blend together into a disorienting haze, like trying to recall what you ate or what you wore exactly ten years ago.
On a visual level, the movie is as expected of Oshii, who places a strong emphasis on environmental shots. Like his more recent works, Oshii continues to push the incorporation of 3-D and 2-D animation, and though the difference is glaring at first, your eyes will eventually adjust to it and treat it as being a natural part of the movie. The Sky Crawlers also does a very good job of making the viewer lose all sense of proportion. A seemingly endless sky separates one base from another, and for all the advanced technology incorporated into the planes, when they disappear into the clouds they might as well not exist.
I came into The Sky Crawlers expecting at least something interesting, but what the movie did was destroy my sense of distinction between interest and boredom. I kept watching, unable to tell if I was being entertained or if my mind was drifting away. My memories of this movie are blurry at best, and I can’t help but feel that this was the intention all along.