Patience my child, patience. This is what I have to ask of you if you choose to watch the legendary Mamoru Oshii’s animated drama ‘The Sky Crawlers’. It’s slow, there’s no getting around that. It’s about as clear as the Detroit River on a cloudy day. It’s esoteric, obscure, complex and frustrating. But eventually, if you are patient, it will all begin to un-mystify itself for you. For the most part. Sort of. In a way.
In this alternate universe that we will be spending the next couple of hours in, two major corporations, I believe, are engaged in a war. The battlefield for this war are exclusively the skies above where skilled fighter pilots known as the Kildren, possibly because they are teenaged children who never age and who kill, man propeller driven aircraft armed to the teeth and dogfight to the death. Our story begins with the character of Kannami who has recently been reassigned to this particular base, a base he finds very familiar even though he’s never been there before. Kannami’s first order of business upon arriving at his airbase, a base that we have mentioned seems real familiar to him, would be getting the orders from his commanding officer Kusanagi, who also seems somewhat familiar.
Strange bird this Kusanagi. Also one of the Kildren and an ace pilot in her own right, she is cold, stoic, detached, weird, chain smokes and has a seven year old daughter. This daughter however believes that Kusanagi is her sister since it’s hard to explain to a seven year old why her mother is a fifteen year old girl. The paternity of this daughter remained a bit of mystery. At least to me. Might’ve been in there, but I didn’t catch that. There are three other pilots at the base and a wise sage mechanic who all bide their time, eat meat pies, drink beer, chain smoke and visit whore houses whilst they wait for their next mission.
Unfortunately the stress factor is sky high at this airbase. Kusanagi is going mad, questioning everything they are doing and even becoming suicidal. Kannami wouldn’t mind an answer or two about the pilot he replaced, information which is spoon fed
to him and includes little nuggets such as this pilot being Kusanagi’s lover or the fact that Kusanagi put a bullet in his head. Then there’s the issue of ‘The Teacher’. A human adult pilot with a Jaguar painted on the side of his plane who flies for the enemy and is unbeatable. We are told, with no clarity mind you, that he used to fly for the side of our heroes of this story until he switched sides for no particular reason. He may also be the father of Kusanagi’s child. Who knows?
Eventually all of this slow moving drama will come down to a major offensive where squads of pilots prepare for an assault on the base of their enemy while the populace that inhabits this world looks on half bemused at the carnage that’s going on above them. Note that this mission is ‘classified’ but yet every move the squad makes is broadcast on the local news. But the questions for the Kildren persist. Who are they? Why is it that when one dies someone who looks the same as them comes back with a different name? Who is The Teacher? Who is Kusanagi’s baby’s daddy and why doesn’t anybody in this universe, outside of the Kildren, really care about the war that’s raging on above them?
Mamoru Oshii is a strange dude. Just watch the DVD extras on this disk, which are generally lousy, and observe the man. He obviously exists on a plane that the majority of us simply cannot comprehend and this usually comes through in his work. I’ve never been able to completely comprehend anything he’s done and I’m still trying to work through his live action film Avalon. ‘Sky Crawlers’ is no different. Again, nothing in this movie is laid out with any concrete clarity, though there are a pair of long soliloquy’s delivered by a pair of characters which help matters, but for the most part you are left to ponder, contemplate, and discuss with others exactly what the director is shooting for here. The good thing is that most of the answers are there if you care to search for them. The question is will you care enough to search for them?
You see ‘Sky Crawlers’, a beautiful mix of CGI graphics and traditional cel animation, is very slow moving. There are long stretches of silence. A character asks a question and he is greeted with silence. Twenty minutes later another character may answer that question, followed up with another question which will be greeted with more silence or a sip from a bottle of beer. Most everything in this film is open ended, the characters in this movie are ill-defined, the story is vague, the conclusion is obtuse. While all of these elements do set the stage for a thought provoking deep thinking treatise which could lead to some interesting discussions, it doesn’t necessarily make for an entertaining movie.
Mamoru Oshii’s ‘Sky Crawlers’ is wonderfully animated, well thought out and intellectually detailed. It’s also dull. For Oshii’s swollen fan base this film is a can’t miss. For the tier of individuals somewhere below that you will need to be in a certain frame of mind to get the most out of this tale. Anyone below that… proceed at your own risk.