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THE SKY CRAWLERS (a J!-ENT Anime Blu-ray Disc Review)

May 22, 2009 by  



“Another magnificent film from Mamoru Oshii.  Beautiful artwork and stunning 3D to make up one of the most outstanding anime films that I have seen, combined with perhaps one of the best anime film soundtracks I have ever heard. Oshii continues to move forward with each film of what can be possible and the results are stunning!    ‘THE SKY CRAWLERS’ is a film that takes full advantage of High Definition and Mamoru Oshii fans will definitely enjoy this Blu-ray release!

Images courtesy of © 2008 MH/NI and BWDVYHDYCH. All Rights Reserved.

TITLE: THE SKY CRAWLERS

DURATION: 121 minutes

BLU-RAY INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition (1:78:1), Japanese, English and Portuguese Dolby True HD 5.1, Spanish 5.1.  Subtitles(s): English (UK), English (US), French (Parisian), Portuguese (Brazil), Spanish (Latin Am)

COMPANY: Production I.G./Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

RATED: PG-13 (For Material Involving Violence, Some Sexual Content and Smoking)

RELEASED DATE: May 26, 2009

Directed by Mamoru Oshii

Originally Created by Hiroshi Mori

Screenplay by Chihiro Ito

Music by Kenji Kawai

Executive Produced by Seiji Okuda, Mitsuhisa Ishikawa

Produced by Tomohiko Ishii

Sequence Director: Toshihiko Nishikubo

Character Design and Chief Animation Director: Tetsuya Nishio

Mechanical Design by Atsushi Takeuchi

Art Director: Kazuo Nagai

Art Setting: Takashi Watanabe

Color Designs: Kumiko Yusa

Visual Effects: Hisashi Ezura

CGI Supervisor: Hiroyuki Hayashi

CAST:

Rinko Kikuchi as Suito Kusanagi

Ryo Kase as Yuichi Kannami

Chiaki Kuriyama as Mitsuya

Shosuke Tanihara as Tokino

Megumi  Yamaguchi – Mizuki Kusanagi

Daisuke Hirakawa as Aizu Yudagawa

Takuma Takewaka as Uroyuki Shinoda

Yoshiko Sakakibara as Towa Sasakura

Mugihito as Kyoku Yama

Hochu Otsuka as Honda

From MAMORU OSHII, the world-acclaimed director of Ghost in the Shell comes an award-winning story of an exciting but endless war with heroes too young to understand the meaning of their battles. A group of eternally young fighter pilots known as Kildren experience the sudden loss of innocence as they battle the enemy in astonishing dogfights above the clouds. With his only childhood memory consisting of intense flight training, the fearless teenage pilot Yuichi’s dogfights coexist with his struggle to find his missing past. When his beautiful, young female commander Suito is reluctant to discuss the fate of the pilot that Yuichi is replacing – or the strangely perfect condition of that pilot’s former aircraft – Yuichi’s curiosity becomes heightened.

In 2001, the best-selling novel “THE SKY CRAWLERS” by Hiroshi Mori was written and published. The novel would feature several books released between 2004 and 2008 which include “None But the Air”, “Down to Heaven”, “Flutter Into Life”, “Cradle the Sky” and “Sky Eclipse”.

In 2008, the novel was adapted to an animated film by critically acclaimed director Mamoru Oshii (“Ghost in the Shell”, “Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence”, “Angel’s Egg”, “Urusei Yatsura: Beautiful Dreamer”, “Jin-Roh” and many more well known titles) and features music from well known composer Kenji Kawai and of course, the acclaimed animation studio Production I.G.

Instead of going with popular and experienced anime voice talent for the main character roles, Oshii went with Japanese top acting talents in film such as Academy Award nominated actress Rinko Kikuchi (“Babel”, “Naisu no Mori: The First Contact”), Ryo Kase (“Hachimitsu to Clover”, “Naisu no Mori: The First Contact”, “Tokyo!”, etc.) and Chiaki Kuriyama (“Kill Bill Vol. 1”, “Azumi 2: Death or Love”, “Battle Royale”, etc.).

“THE SKY CRAWLERS” revolves around a pilot named Yuichi Kannami (voice by Ryo Kase), a fighter pilot that is among a group of young people known as “Kildren”. Teenagers who never age, they stay the same age and can only die in battle. While visiting his new living area with other pilots led by Suito Kusanagi (voice by Rinko Kikuchi).

When Yuichi arrives, he is being given a new plane but doesn’t understand why the pilot who flew the new plane is not there to greet him on the transfer. Immediately Yuichi starts to ask questions of where the pilot is, what happened to the pilot and why is the aircraft he is taking over is in perfect condition. No one talks about it and if anything, the pilots recommend him to ask the boss.

Unfortunately, Kusanagi is not the talkative type, reluctant to talk about the what happened to the previous pilot and keeps things at the workplace professional.

In this world, these pilots fight and nothing else. They have their share of fandom who cheer for a pilot but we also learn that many pilots have died but only Kusanagi has lived through each mission and has come back to the home base. We learn that there is one undefeated ace pilot who has been known to kill off plent of the kildren pilots and he has earned the nickname “The Teacher”.

As Kannami progresses as a pilot, there is a certain emptiness and curiousity that he finds with life. Wondering about his boss, the pilot that no one seems to talk to but knowing that he really has no memories but training to fight. So, there is a part of him that wants to know his past.

Along the way, he starts to notice things. New recruits that come, start to exhibit mannerisms similar to other pilots that have perished. Everyone at the base seems resigned and content with the way their life is. That is until the pilot Mitsuya (Chiaki Kuriyama) starts doing her own investigation about the Kildren and Kusanagi suddenly starts to talk about her own emotions of being a pilot that has survived many battles.

As simple as this summary may sound, saying anything more can spoil the film.

If anything, “THE SKY CRAWLERS” is a slowly paced war film that takes place in a war setting but a group of young pilots that live to fight, and a few who want to know their purpose of existing, what memories do they have and is their life all about fighting. A life that is easily predicted? Or are they just pilots who fight for corporations? What is their true role in life?

VIDEO AND AUDIO:

“THE SKY CRAWLERS” is one of the most impressive looking anime that I have seen to come from Japan in terms of bringing realism and animation together.  The opening sequence is just enough to surprise anyone of how beautiful director Mamoru Oshii strives in outdoing the look and feel of his last film.

“GHOST IN THE SHELL: INNOCENCE” looked gorgeous but “THE SKY CRAWLERS” which is featured in 1080p High Definition (aspect ratio 1:78:1) features awesome cloud effects, water effects, sunlight, shading and just everything you can think of Production I.G. can do to make it feel like you are watching real footage.   In one scene where the planes fly high overhead, you can see water crashing into the rocky cliffs and it looks so breathtakingly real, I was very impressed of how 3D was utilized in the film.

I also found the background art and overall artistic look of the locations, an office or bedroom looked in the film.  From the posters on the wall, details on the wood of table, details of the many trees.  It’s one thing to have vibrancy in colors which “THE SKY CRAWLERS” definitely has but to have this level of incredible detail was amazing.

If there was one thing that did surprise me is with the gorgeous 3D and the magnificent backgrounds, the character designs looked simple and clean but without the massive shading or detail that the film showcases in the background and for some, that simpleness may not be accepted when everything else looks beautiful.

I would imagine that the direction for the character design was to put emphasis on the pilot’s surroundings and the various location shots but nevertheless, aside from the character designs, everything else looks incredible.

The picture quality of the film is nice and colorful and I don’t recall seeing any compression artifacts, nor did I see any dust or scratches.  If anything, the picture quality was very well done.

But what I found incredible on this Blu-ray is the audio quality.  “THE SKY CRAWLERS” is featured in Japanese, English and Portuguese Dolby TrueHD 5.1 (also, in Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1).  For the making of this film, director Mamoru Oshii and Production I.G. worked with the folks at Skywalker Sound acclaimed for their expertise in audio.  So, aside from the  audio directionals on different channels which you would expect from the air battles and aircraft zipping around the air, audio is not limited to action scenes.  In fact, you will be immersed in sound as you can hear the wind, crickets, birds and various sounds from the distance come alive all around you.

The audio is quite immersive and I don’t think I have heard an anime film (aside from the recent “Akira” Blu-ray release) that would utilize audio so effectively.  The lossless track for “THE SKY CRAWLERS” is well done!

Picture and audio quality definitely earn high marks for this Blu-ray release.  As for subtitles, “THE SKY CRAWLERS” is featured in English, English SDH, French, Portuguese and Spanish.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“THE SKY CRAWLERS” has a total of three informative special features which are all featured in High Definition with subtitles in English, Spanish and Portuguese.  The special features included are:

  • Animation Research for The Sky Crawlers” Featurette – (30:52) A very informative special feature showcasing Mamoru Oshii and the Production I.G. staff in the Czech Republic.  Director Mamoru Oshii explains why he does a lot of research when it comes to looking for locations on which to utilize in “THE SKY CRAWLERS”.   Oshii is quite thorough as he looks at various aircraft, inspecting them, looking at things in the walls, various pipes, crates, switch panels and anything he can utilize in the film in a similar condition and making sure his photographers are there to take a picture of those objects.  Also, featuring Oshii looking at soldier uniforms, buildings, school rooms and having his staff experience bowling.  Also, shopping in a mall area and purchasing dozens of fashion books.  A very interesting behind-the-scenes look at how meticulous Oshii is about getting certain details of machinery to clothing styles and incorporating it into “THE SKY CRAWLERS”.
  • “The Sound Design and Animation of the Sky Crawlers” Featurette -(32:16) Director Mamoru Oshii and the Production I.G. staff fly to California to visit Skywalker Ranch.  It is the first time that Oshii utilizes the acclaimed studio for audio but a very good behind-the-scenes look at how Oshii directs the crew of how he wants audio utilized and being impressed with what Skywalker Ranch has been able to give him.  This is very interesting to watch because in past interviews with Oshii, he has a very pro Japanese stance in the way films should be made, so for him to mention how Skywalker Ranch works on a lot of Hollywood films and then he, himself utilizing the popular sound studio was interesting.  Also, interesting is how he interacts with his staff and the voice talent and the amount of work his whole staff went through in the process of making the film.  Very informative and enjoyable to watch!
  • Sky’s the Limit: An Interview with Director Mamoru Oshii – (15:18) Director Mamoru Oshii talks about the characters and working on this film.  Although the duration is around 15 minutes long, the interview portions are featured sporadically with anime cuts from the film in between each interview portion.  Nevertheless, any featurette that helps the viewer learn the mindset of Oshii is a major plus.

“THE SKY CRAWLERS” is indeed a beautiful film that showcases top notch anime visuals utilizing 3D CG and beautiful background artwork. The film features an incredible lossless audio track that is definitely going to impress audiophiles who have desired more quality anime releases with top notch Japanese/English audio quality.

With that being said, I have to say that “THE SKY CRAWLERS” is another masterpiece from the critically acclaimed anime director and the film is nothing short of stunning and fantastic. With that being said, Oishii films are appreciated by fans who are willing to be open to cerebral storylines or storylines with a philosophical meaning behind it.

Like many of his film’s, I have to watch it several times to appreciate the film in various levels. “Ghost In the Shell 2: Innocence” was visually captivating but the amount of detail that went into the creation of “THE SKY CRAWLERS” is amazing. The amount of detail incorporated to the audio is just amazing. You hear the basset hound barking in certain parts of the film that made me pause and wonder if the dog barking was coming from a neighbor, even the crickets.

Obviously, Oishii working with Skywalker Sound was definitely a magnificent partnership because the audio truly made this film come alive. It matched the quality set by Production I.G. in the beautiful 3D and artistic backgrounds and you really feel immersed in the detail and the storyline.

Also, it was a very bold move to go with Japanese film actors instead of experience anime voice talent. Even with the interviews on the special features, actress Rinko Kikuchi and actor Ryo Kase were unsure how they did in the film but were assured by the staff that they would take care of the rest. The talent felt they could have done more, so that uneasy feeling that they had, I think that Director Oshii wanted that. To make the film sound real, unclear emotions to be real and not to be well-acted. Definitely interesting choices made in the creation of this film.

With everything that I said being so positive about the film’s video and audio quality, I do have to say that “THE SKY CRAWLERS” is a film that moves slowly. This is not a film to watch late at night if you are tired, this is a film that you may need to watch twice to understand certain scenes that you may have missed earlier in the film. Oishii chooses not to reveal much about the Kildren, he chooses to focus on the main characters.

This leaves us with many questions of “Why are they like this?”, “Why were they created?”… A lot of questions asking “why?” and unfortunately, the film doesn’t go into detail about the why’s, it explorers these people who were created this way and live this way and now question that way of life and not having really any control of their destiny or do they?

Overall, “THE SKY CRAWLERS” is a fine film and the Blu-ray release definitely makes you much more appreciative of Mamoru Oshii’s work. And most importantly, advice from Oshii from the special features, make sure you watch the film entirely as their is an imporant scene that takes place after the credits.

“THE SKY CRAWLERS” is highly recommended!






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