Renowned anime director Mamoru Oshii is in pure auteur mode here with his adaptation of Hiroshi Mori’s series of novels. The Sky Crawlers is a film for diehard anime fans only. It tries the audience’s patience for much of the film and whilst generally rewarding, I can imagine most people giving up before the credits roll.
The film is set in an airbase on some alternate Earth. It’s never really clear what country or what era we’re supposed to be in – it looks like Europe and the fighter planes have propellers but look nothing like any aircraft I’ve ever seen. There’s a war being fought and we get the impression that it’s been dragging on for years. The top fighter pilots have been assembled here, the majority of them ‘kildren’ – a breed of human that apparently never grows old. Thus they have adult thoughts and emotions, but are forever stuck in the bodies of children (no, this film doesn’t help the genre challenge one of its most common criticisms). There’s a sense that these kids exist only to die in an endless war, and it’s clear that the film is making a rather blatant real world point.
The Sky Crawlers is interminably slow. I mean, a good portion of Ghost in the Shell (Kôkaku kidôtai) is boring, but it has some brilliant scenes that balance it out. Here, we have almost nothing to distract us from the tedium. There are a bunch of aerial dogfights which are incredible – a wonderful blend of CGI and traditional anime – and deserve to be watched on the big screen. Alas, whenever the film gets a chance to really do something thrilling, it takes the arthouse route and skips to the next scene. I’m not exaggerating. The action heats up and – cut to the next scene. The characters are about to have sex and – cut to the next scene. I’m all for subtlety, but The Sky Crawlers really tests the viewer.
As a piece of science fiction it’s thought provoking, absolutely. As a piece of entertainment, it fails. The voice acting is fantastic and the animation is really quite beautiful, but this isn’t enough to make this understated flick truly spellbinding.Rating: