Sky Crawlers doesn’t really sound like a aerial dogfight-y kinda title to me. It makes me think of flying spiders or something. But what’s in a name, anyway?
From the beginning of Sky Crawlers, it’s apparent there is something weird going on with the world. There are pilots in the sky shooting down enemies, being shot down, and being replaced. But the pilots don’t seem as though they’re really that into the war. There’s not a crazy lengthy backstory to which side is which (one of the reasons I can’t watch Gundam, too much backstory). Instead, it’s nameless side versus also nameless side.
The pacing of Sky Crawlers is really slow. Some parts of the film were excruciatingly slow. I fast forwarded the beginning credits and there were parts of the movie I seriously could’ve watched in 1.5x speed. I’m convinced it has to do with the aesthetics of Japanese cinema.
It would be deceptive to label this with the genre “action” or “war.” It’s more about the characters. At its core is a drama with war and aerial dog fighting as the setting. As the story progresses (slowly), we learn more about the world the characters are living in, their own circumstances, and the world view that is quite different from our own, though not completely foreign. I wouldn’t want to give too much away, but I think the story is definitely affected by post-war Japan’s pacifist movement and is a criticism of war and its modern day television production values. In other words, a criticism of war television as entertainment.
I must’ve read this or heard this idea somewhere, that while Western cinema really focuses on “the good guy won in the end” kind of story, Japanese cinema goes for “the protagonist accomplished something, or grew, or something.” In other words, it’s about winning the war (Western) versus character growth (Japanese). Not that these two are mutually exclusive, but you’ll see a lot more dead protagonists and “bad endings” in Japanese movies. Ummm… don’t consider that a spoiler or anything…
Overall, I liked Sky Crawlers. I think it suffered from a really slow pace (again, aesthetics), incredibly generic character designs (except for the hookers) and sloppy visual coordination (I still hate CG paired with hand-drawn cels + painted backgrounds? And the hand-drawn animation seemed really low-framerate for a feature film). I think the story could’ve used a bit more tact too (some parts seemed super preachy but were necessary for exposition). Despite all these shortcomings, I enjoyed the movie and it made me think, at the very least. At least they try to turn the thing into a Hollywood action film or anything.
One more thing. At the very beginning, I groaned because the CG elements made the film look more like the cutscenes to a video game. Later on in the movie, a character refers to their situation as a sort of game. I wonder, then, if the comparison I made about the similarity of the fight scenes and the “war as a game” theme were not a coincidence, but an intended juxtaposition. Probably not; I think the Japanese just have a thing for crappy CG in their anime.
Thanks to Sony Pictures Home Entertainment for sending me an advance review copy of The Sky Crawlers（スカイ・クロラ）. It’s out on May 26th.