Sky Crawlers



Venice Film Festival, In Competition

Kind of haunting, kind of slow, "Sky Crawlers" by "Ghost in the Shell" director Mamoru Oshii is the second work of Japanese anime to bring some fantasy to Venice competition. Oshii experiments here with a unique mixture of 2-D and 3-D animation in his adaption of Hiroshi Mori's wildly popular novels about the Kildern, teenage fighter pilots trained to combat a futuristic air war over Europe, which is really a deadly sports match. Released in August in Japan, it has been out-performed by rival Hayao Miyazaki and his magical "Ponyo on a Cliff By the Sea," but its greater appeal for teenagers and young adults could reverse the statistics offshore.

With its excitingly realistic CGI air battles, regularly if too briefly intercut into the leisurely paced story, "Sky Crawlers" should have little trouble catching the young vidgamers' eye. Targeted at the same demographic is the story of fearless, slightly androgynous-looking teen pilots who can never age, but whose dangerous life on the razor's edge justifies a lot of casual off-screen sex to relieve the tension.

Yuichi Kannami arrives at a remote air base to replace another pilot. The death of his predecessor Jinroh is something of a mystery, which his female commander Suito Kusanagi refuses to reveal to him. Only when the two grow close and spend the night together does the truth begin to dawn. Kildren like Kannami, Kusanagi and the other pilots who fly in this highly orchestrated war know they can never age or die, unless killed in action. But their fuzzy memories hide from them the terrible secret of their births.

Produced at leading animation studio Production I.G., which made "Ghost in the Shell" and the animation sequences in "Kill Bill vol. 1," "Sky Crawlers" cultivates a disturbing, modern look in its art direction. Its bold combo of flat, 2-D drawn characters walking through fully rendered 3-D backgrounds suggests a dissettling ambiguity, like the clunky, retro-looking prop planes and air hangars that seem lifted out of a WW2 movie, played off against a futuristic sci-fi story. Kenji Kawai's melodic score provides dreamy accompaniment to the drama.

Production company: Nippon Television Network, Production I.G.
Cast: Rinko Kikuchi, Ryo Kase, Chiaski Kuryama, Shosuke Tanihara.
Director: Mamoru Oshii.
Screenwriters: Chihiro Ito, based on a novel by Mori Hiroshi.
Executive producers: Seiji Okuda, Mitsuhisa Ishikawa.
Producer: Tomohiko Ishii.
Animation director: Toshihiko Nishikubo.
Character designer/Key animation director: Tetsuya Nishio.
Mechanic designer: Atsushi Takeuchi.
Art director: Kazuo Nagai.
Music: Kenji Kawai.
Sales Agent: Elle Driver.
122 minutes.