Friday, 2 December 2011

スカイ•クロラ/ The Sky Crawlers

Another Production IG project from Oshii Mamoru – bringing with it the hallmarks of that partnership: beautiful visuals, main characters with blank expressions and glassy eyes and questions raised about humanity and existentialism. But all the flaws of the Ghost in the Shell properties are here – with very few of their virtues.

The plot here unravels incredibly slowly, with the audience disoriented and left to speculate. Two fighter pilots, young enough to be called children by some, go to a diner with their girls. They drink, smoke and take the girls somewhere they know they can sleep with them. But the younger, more childlike one is confused. He has just arrived on the military base, but nobody will talk about the person he’s replaced.
We soon learn that the country is at war, battles mostly waged in the air. The pilots are ‘Kildren’ (or kirudoru, ‘kill-dolls’ in the original), apparently unable to age, dying only in war – hence, perhaps, their willingness to indulge in cigarettes and alcohol. But these are not party people – that is very much emphasised. They are grim, angst-ridden youths, every day facing the possibility of death in battle, most questioning themselves, their pasts and those around them.

The main problem here is that the film is long – two hours long – and very dull. The idea is clearly that the sombre, slow-moving story will come over as mature, challenging and intellectual. But it just gives the impression of very little story to tell. The story comes from a novel, but for all that it gets spun out and for all the loose ends lead you to think there is more to be revealed than you see, it is just very thin and very predictable. We had figured out within ten minutes the twist that would come at the end – and what would happen after the credits – and the rest was just waiting to see if our expectations were to be bourn out, or if I’d just been watching too much Gunslinger Girl and Evangelion. In the end, nothing presented as a twist came as a surprise, and I disliked this for the same reason I dislike most of Chiaki J Konaka’s work.

Also, while there are two relatively normal characters near the centre of the story, they are very much secondary to the two main characters – who are always kept at arm’s length. They are strange, don’t understand themselves or one another and mostly deal with their feelings by staring.

Everything is totally beautiful – the character designs are simple but the lighting, the movement, the mise-en-scene and especially the backgrounds look amazing. The film superbly cracks the problem of how to make CG look right in traditional animation – which is not through making edges bold or cel-shading obvious, but by simply making everything else in the shot look every bit as good as the CG does. Visually, this is one of the best films anime can offer, and if you want something to show people to convince them anime isn’t all giant eyes and sparkles, this would be a good choice. But for fans of conventional storytelling, strong characterisation, a good balance between action and drama or anything that would resemble fun, look elsewhere. I would have much rather this were a 30-minute Twilight Q-style experiment.

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