While visually brilliant, Sky Crawlers lives up to its title by crawling slowly towards some interesting philosophical questions.
What They Say
A group of eternally young fighter pilots known as Kildren experience the sudden loss of innocence as they battle the enemy in astonishing dogfights above the clouds. With his only childhood memory consisting of intense flight training, the fearless teenage pilot Yuichi's dogfights coexist with his struggle to find his missing past. When his beautiful, young female commander Suito is reluctant to discuss the fate of the pilot that Yuichi is replacing - or the strangely perfect condition of that pilot's former aircraft Yuichi's curiosity becomes heightened.
Sky Crawlers boasts a fantastic Dolby 5.1 soundtrack in both languages. It captures the frantic energy of aerial combat but is even more remarkable in the quiet scenes. The minute details – footsteps, buzzing insects, a curious dog sniffing about – move through the soundstage with perfect clarity. Oshii tends to let the movements of the scene speak more than dialogue, and the small audio flourishes give the visuals a powerful voice.
Presented in its original theatrical 1.78:1 aspect ration, the video transfer for Sky Crawlers is flawless. It handles the various animation styles used seamlessly; the rich colors and mechanical details were sharp, smooth, and simply gorgeous. Again, the scenes themselves are part of the story, and this transfer ensures that nothing is lost in the digital translation.
Despite the heavy text dominating the upper and lower quarters of the front cover, the image of Yuichi and Suito overlaid on a dogfight still manages to draw the eye. The back cover contains all the requisite details in a clean, mostly readable format. Production credits are in a blue font on top of a black background, not the easiest color scheme to read.
The main menu puts you in the cockpit with a view of clips from the various dog fights in the film. A simple control allows you to quickly and without any delays to the various sub-menus. This control shakes at times as if your cockpit is being buffeted by fire; add in a loop of rousing music to complete the dramatic effect, and you have a simple but well designed menu.
The extras are two features on the making of the film and an interview with Oshii. The "making of" pieces provide fascinating insight on the research, visual design, and audio design efforts made to bring this novel adaptation to the screen.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Mamoru Oshii's works can be counted on for a number of elements: gorgeous visuals, captivating music and background audio, and a laconic story that explores the psychological and philosophical. All of these elements can be found in his adaptation of the novel The Sky Crawlers. Yuichi arrives as the new pilot in a countryside air base; he is surprised to find the usual piloting traditions absent. His predecessor is not there to hand over his plane to Yuichi, and the plane Yuichi receives is fresh from the factory.
No one is willing to tell him what happened to the pilot he is replacing, but he is soon inundated with rumors that his commander Suito was involved. What follows is a plot split between slowly uncovering the details of this mystery and meditations on the nature and psychology of war. Despite the two hour runtime, a cohesive whole fails to emerge from the two halves.
Yuichi is part of the mystery; he and Suito are Kildren, genetically engineered soldiers that cannot age much past puberty and can never die a natural death. Created by accident, the government decides a race of immortals is best suited as cannon fodder. A never ending war is created and broadcast across the world. This serves as entertainment and a means to keep the people docile and carefully controlled.
These are intriguing concepts to explore; should one blindly follow the destiny chosen for them, or should they strive to break the cycle and find their own path? Is war the most efficient way to ensure overall peace and societal harmony? We reach these initial questions far too late in the film. Contrast this with Oshii's earlier work Ghost in the Shell.
Ghost's central theme was exploring what defines us as an individual, unique entity. Every action by the Puppet Master touched on this and caused the characters to reflect on their own perceptions of individuality. Sky Crawlers chews up too much scenery just to reach its core themes leaving little time for the characters or audience to reflect on them.
Sky Crawlers is a visually gorgeous film; emotions are conveyed with few words. Dog fights are expertly choreographed dances of metal and death. The transition from standard animation to more photorealistic renderings of the planes was briefly jarring, but once you are in the scene, it is simply stunning. However, visuals can only carry a film so far; you feel the length of the film rather than being absorbed into the story and characters.
Oshii once again provides a sumptuous banquet of visual delights; the subtle details and movements of the characters often say more than the actual dialogue. However, the overall story suffers form an overly laconic pace that arrives at the story's core themes far too late. The more interesting philosophical aspects of war, immortality, and control of one's fate are glossed over, almost an afterthought tacked on as the "solution" behind the mysteries of the air base. Sky Crawlers captures the beauty Oshii can create with animation but lacks the polished story that provides the soul for his films. It is worth watching once, but it does take some effort to arrive at the end.
Japanese 5.1 Language, English 5.1 Language, English Subtitles, Featurettes
Sony Bravia KDL-46S4100, Panasonic RP-82 via component video cable, Sony STR-DE915 DD receiver, Bose Acoustimass-6 speakers