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The Sky Crawlers(2008)
Set in an alternate future, focuses on boy and girl teenaged pilots called Kildren who are destined to live eternally in their adolescence. Raised to engage in aerial battles over Europe for the entertainment of adults, the Kildren are conscious that every day could be their last because they fight a war organized and operated by adults. But as they embrace the reality they are faced with, they live their day-to-day lives to the fullest.
For more about The Sky Crawlers and the The Sky Crawlers Blu-ray release, see the The Sky Crawlers Blu-ray Review published by Dustin Somner on May 27, 2009 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.5 out of 5.
Starring: Rinko Kikuchi, Ryo Kase, Chiaki Kuriyama
Director: Mamoru Oshii
» See full cast & crew
The Sky Crawlers Blu-ray Review
"Do people who might die tomorrow have any need to grow up?"
Reviewed by Dustin Somner, May 27, 2009
Ask any anime fan who Mamoru Oshii is, and most will immediately identify him as the director of the 1995 classic, Ghost in the Shell. I've always loved Ghost in the Shell, and still consider it one of my all-time favorite anime films, but it doesn't seem to reflect Oshii's creative style as well as Jin-Roh (which he wrote but didn't direct), or the follow-up Ghost in the Shell film titled Innocence. Those two later works demonstrate the sublety of his creative side, while lulling the audience into a philosophical trance that seems to be Oshii's cinematic style.
The Sky Crawlers continues this trend, with a story that's based on the the final chapter in a series of novels written by Hiroshi Mori. I've never read the novel and have little knowledge of the other four books in the series, but I suppose there are plenty of examples where non-linear storytelling can work in the writer's favor. It also stands as a testament that the final chapter in the series was the first book released to the Japanese public (also titled The Sky Crawlers), with the intention that the series would be read without regard to proper chronological order. In the hands of any other director, I'd be a little worried, but Oshii has proven himself to be a capable artist over the years and I was excited to see him step into the directing chair for this film.
In an alternate reality that mirrors a technologically stagnant Europe, a group of young fighter pilots known as Kildren take to the skies in dogfights to protect the interests of two rival corporations. Yuichi Kannami is the newest recruit at a station that's run by Ms. Suito Kusanagi, a vengeful former fighter pilot who seems incapable of happiness. Over the course of Kannami's time on the base, he befriends a fellow pilot named Naofumi Tokino, a brash young pilot that appears far more seasoned than his youth would imply. As Kannami works his way up to ace pilot of his station, he begins to question his motivation in killing pilots from the rival corporation, and strikes up an uncomfortable relationship with Kusanagi, who hides the truth behind the young men and women that participate in the ongoing fued. As you can imagine, everything is not as it seems, and the harsh reality of being a Kildren fighter is more than some individuals can take.
It's difficult to discuss the plot of this film without giving too much away. Needless to say, there are several twists throughout the plot and the ending is set up as the primary component that makes the entire experience worthwhile. I respect Oshii for the understated tones of his films, but The Sky Crawlers is a perfect example of style over substance. The first 90 minutes of the film contains long sequences of methodic shots interspersed with occasional dialogue that rarely seems profound. I kept waiting for something intriguing to hold my interest, but it really became a chore after awhile. I'd hate to imply the entire film is boring, but it seemed the plot could have been told in under an hour, rather than attempting to fill a runtime that exceeds 120 minutes. On the positive side, the occasional dogfights offer a nice break from the monotony of the other scenes, but they don't occur with enough frequency to offset the slow pace of the primary story. Even the finale of the movie is somewhat of a letdown on my first viewing. There's a chance I'll develop a greater appreciation for the ending in the future, but I expected a significant payoff in order to salvage the rest of the viewing experience. Instead, we have a veiled attempt at a philosophical climax, but no defined conclusion. As a side note, I did watch the last minute that follows the credits, and I can appreciate Oshii's intentions in closing the story the way he does, but it still left me wanting more.
The animation of The Sky Crawlers is reasonably proficient for a theatrical anime release, but rarely approaches the quality of other recent anime productions (such as the Freedom OVA). The incorporation of hand-drawn characters with computer generated backgrounds has a tendency to create a jarring experience for the viewer, and it admittedly drew me out of the film on multiple occasions. If the characters were drawn in a detailed fashion it may have meshed a little better, but next to the fine textures of the excellent CGI animation (courtesy of Production IG), it simply didn't hold up as well as I'd hoped. On the other hand, the dogfight sequences are almost 100% digital, and the results are fantastic. From the exhaust trail of the jets, to the exploding bombers, the precise attention to detail creates an immersive experience that leaves you wanting more. If there's one reason I'll be watching this film again in the near future, it's the aerial dogfights.
The Sky Crawlers Blu-ray, Video Quality
Presented in 1080p utilizing the AVC codec (at an average bitrate of 22Mbps), The Sky Crawlers offers a visual experience that appears to be somewhat hampered by the source material, but still offers a mostly pleasing visual experience. Several scenes in the film incorporate visual effects that were likely intended to help blend the hand-drawn animation with computer generated backgrounds, but the end result is a noticeable softening of the picture. Lighting effects seem to be the main culprit in the loss of detail during the dialogue driven scenes (for a good example, go to the sequence around the 26 minute mark with the call-girl), but I still noticed a degree of softness in several aerial shots that were completely rendered using CGI. On the positive side, I never detected the presence of artifacting, banding, edge enhancement, or any other transfer-related anomaly, and black levels were consistently deep with a pleasing degree of contrast in both daytime and nighttime sequences. Despite the hazy nature of some scenes, the transfer is still a vast improvement over DVD resolution and my overall impressions are positive.
The Sky Crawlers Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Skywalker Sound demonstrates they have the midas touch with this Dolby TrueHD 5.1 track in the native language of Japanese. Aside from one or two scenes with overly soft dialogue, this film could be used as demonstration material for the unique use of surround channel separation to create a cinematic experience that is truly engulfing. Anyone with an interest in aerial jet battles will be treated to a first-hand experience that (dare I say) surpasses anything we've heard in live action films such as Top Gun. The sound of bullets as they zing past the aircraft, or the whir of the propellors approaching from the back of the room blend together with clarity and spatial precision to create a jaw-dropping experience. Even in the subtle, dialogue-driven scenes, the creative use of environmental effects is handled with a level of care I simply didn't expect. You'll heard the tiniest drops of rain as they hit the concrete, or jump at the resulting echo of the falling bowling pins during the bowling alley sequence. I've heard impressive effects on a number of prior Blu-ray releases, but it's a rare treat to hear sounds that stand out with ultra-realism. Kudo's to everyone involved in this audio track and I hope to hear more from Skywalker Sound in the near future.
The Sky Crawlers Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Animation Research for The Sky Crawlers (1080i, Dolby Digital 2.0, 30:52 min): This supplement includes interviews with director Mamoru Oshii, who discusses the inspiration for locations and artistic designs in the film. A good portion of the supplement is also dedicated to video footage of Oshii and the crew traveling around Ireland and Poland to gain first-hand experience that could be utilized in The Sky Crawlers. The audio is presented in Japanese with English subtitles.
The Sound Design and Animation of The Sky Crawlers (1080i, Dolby Digital 2.0, 32:16 min): This is a wonderful extra, that includes footage of Oshii's initial meeting at the Skywalker Ranch (they completed the creative sound design for the film) as well as footage of the Japanese animators working on several scenes. It's a wonderful behind-the-scenes look at Oshii's directing style and the people who dedicated countless hours to his labor of love.
Sky's the Limit: An Interview with Director Mamoru Oshii (1080i, Dolby Digital 2.0, 15:18 min): On this extra, Oshii provides an exposition on the many themes he hoped to convey in the film and provides some background on how he designed the alternate reality that exists in The Sky Crawlers. Anyone with an interest in Oshii's work as a visionary director will find this supplement fascinating.
The Sky Crawlers Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
If you already have an interest in the film, I hope this review doesn't sway you away from at least testing the waters with a rental. The underlying story is intriguing, and the revelations toward the end are a welcome addition, but I found the overall experience a little underwhelming compared to other anime films on the market (including prior work by Mamoru Oshii). This is definitely the type of film you have to be in the mood to watch and I could see a number of viewers losing interest (or falling asleep) within the first hour. From a technical standpoint, the audio presentation is close to reference quality and the video appears to be an accurate representation of non-reference source material. Taken as a whole, this Blu-ray is easy to recommend as a rental, but can't be recommended as a purchase unless you're sure the film fits your taste.
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• Today on Blu-ray - May 26th - May 26, 2009
Father's Day may still be a few weeks away, but that hasn't stopped studios from flooding the market with male targeted films. Universal is taking their turn today, releasing four catalog titles that are sure to appeal to a good number of high definition fathers ...
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Sony Pictures Home Entertainment have announced that they will bring the Mamoru Oshii film 'The Sky Crawlers' to Blu-ray on May 26th, day-and-date with the DVD release. Additionally, they have announced that they will bring the 'Underworld BD 3-pack' to Blu-ray ...
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