Mamoru Oshii doesn’t make forgettable anime. Be it Ghost in the Shell or Patlabor 2, the man injects so much personality into his films that it’s impossible not to recognise his touch. There is, of course, his famous basset hound, but there’s also a poetic side that transports this viewer into the ether. I can’t tell if it’s just that his films are ageing like fine wine, or if I’m now of an age where I’m better able to appreciate what he’s trying to say, but whatever the case, he’s now one of my favourite film directors.
I watched The Sky Crawlers for the first time last night. With Kenji Kawai and Production IG alongside him, it’s a film as thoughtful as it is beautiful. Set on an alternate Earth, the ageless Kildren (“kill-dolls”) are fighter pilots forever clashing amidst the clouds in a war that is at best extremely vague and at worst totally pointless. The story exists in a place that’s like Neverland gone bad, where the children’s only escape from the endless cycles of war is heavy drinking, sex and suicide: the sheer monotony of their lives is reflected in the film’s subdued colour palette, everything is so hazy and drained: an apt worldview for a doll. A doll isn’t alive. A doll doesn’t have memories. A doll is content with its place in the world because it knows no better.
There’s an urgency that underpins The Sky Crawlers. Is it okay to live a life like this? To feel so desensitised and free of passion? In both a very literal and metaphorical sense, it’s about people who can’t grow up, but has a message of perseverance for us too: “You must live until you can change something.” Throughout the film, Kusanagi carries a loaded gun, points it at her temple and threatens to kill herself. To put this into context, when you realise that 30,000 people in Japan kill themselves every year, the ideas behind The Sky Crawlers begin to make sense.
The Kildren are clones, and coming to terms with the fact that you’re not special, or unique, can be hard, but being human means accepting that reality and moving forwards anyway. “Just because it’s the same path doesn’t mean it always has the same scenery. Isn’t that… good enough?” For me, at least, it’s good enough. It’s like how I’m an anime blogger, and I’ve been doing this for years now. I could give up and nothing would change. People will still be writing about anime tomorrow and I’d be forgotten. Why should I bother? I’m not asking for your sympathy here, it’s just a fact.
This is what The Sky Crawlers is about. Facing the reality that you’re not doing anything different with your life, but taking the responsibility to push yourself forwards anyway, that is how I’m interpreting Yūichi’s last line, “I’m going to kill my father.” Although it means he’s almost certainly going to his death, he’s at least trying to step out of the cycle, cast aside his history and change his life. There’s a huge difference between dying in pursuit of change and dying without ever having tried anything. It beautifully transforms what’s ostensibly such a sad end into such a moment of rapture. It’s wonderful to struggle, to be imperfect, to change. Life would be so boring otherwise: don’t give up.
Suffice to say, The Sky Crawlers is an excellent film. As should be expected of Mamoru Oshii at this point, it’s another deliberately paced, deep drama punctuated with moments of exciting, visceral action. I couldn’t ask for any more from a film. It’s one of the best I’ve seen in years.