Japanimation duo compete at Venice

Miyazaki's 'Ponyo,' faces off with Oshii's 'Sky Crawlers'

Click here to read THR's review of "Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea"

VENICE -- The presence of two Japanese animation movies in competition at the Venice film festival this year has created a contest within a contest, and brought to the big screen two strikingly different pictures.

The revered Hayao Miyazaki is among the favorites for the top prize at Saturday's awards ceremony with "Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea," his uplifting, colorful take on "The Little Mermaid" that has already stormed the box office in Japan.

Up against him in the 21-film competition is Mamoru Oshii, whose bleak yet spectacular "The Sky Crawlers" has received mixed reviews and, according to trade press, fallen well behind Miyazaki in domestic ticket sales over the summer.

In "The Sky Crawlers," humanoids are genetically designed to live forever as teenaged pilots until they are shot dead in fierce air battles.

The "reality TV" wars fought by so-called "Kildren" are between global corporations and are staged purely for the entertainment of the general population which tracks the battles, advances and retreats on television.

Oshii was quick to draw comparisons between himself and his more famous competitor, who won an Oscar for "Spirited Away" and has a sizeable following overseas.

In production notes for "The Sky Crawlers," 57-year-old Oshii says that with stunning air battle scenes, "I am confident I can beat Miyazaki. Of course he is known to argue he is the best."

When asked in a Reuters interview to compare his work with that of Miyazaki, he added:

"If you see Miyazaki movies, I just think it is pleasant, it is joyful, it's eye candy and it is a pleasure to watch his movies, of course. But you have to realize that that's not reality," he added, speaking through an interpreter.

"If you see the dog fight air battle scenes in his movies, people don't die there, so they are nice to watch but there is no realism in his movies. This is exactly the opposite approach to mine."

In Oshii's dark vision of humanity in "The Sky Crawlers," "Kildren" fight for their lives for the sake of entertainment.

The point, the director explained, is that people cannot appreciate peace time and reality itself unless there is war.

"As long as men are as they are, war will never disappear," he told a press briefing in Venice.

"It's unfortunately something that we can't eliminate from our very nature. We'll never achieve a state of perfect peace, and from my point of view this is just linked to human nature and is something we can't free ourselves from."

"The Sky Crawlers" is a combination of hand drawn, 2-D animation, used mainly for the scenes on land, and computer-generated 3-D graphics used for the air battle scenes.

The recreations of World War Two dog fights, featuring propeller aircraft and a "retro" look, contrast with the boredom and listlessness of life back on the ground.

One "Kildren" questions the point of flying sorties that go on forever, or at least until she is killed in battle, and she and others suffer acute depression and contemplate suicide as an alternative to their fate.