Saturday, July 25, 2009

Recycled Youth, Part 1: Let's Go Bowling

Looks like Wally stole some of my thunder before I got around to posting this, but I haven't read his take yet. Let's see if we agree or not.

Mamoru Oshii is one of those directors I want to like a lot more than I do. The first Patlabor movie is the film that convinced me anime was worth watching at all, but as time goes on I can't help but think that Oshii really needs the rest of Headgear to stop his depressive tendencies from drowning out all other nuance. He basically ruined Ghost in the Shell until Kenji Kamiyama came along, and Avalon proved he can depict shellshocked emotional numbness in live-action just as well as with cartoons. Tachigui was amusing, if slight, but Sky Crawlers once again finds him burying the needle on his emotional range.

Quick summary: In a European never-never-land where people read the Daily Yomiuri but watch Brit-accented television and occasionally speak passable English, air war has been reduced to a ritualized bloodsport between two rival military companies. Our main character, Yuichi Kannami, is a newly arrived replacement pilot for Rostock Corporation, but he quickly fits into the base's routine, if you ignore all the weird looks and trailed-off comments everyone on staff keeps throwing his way. Which Yuichi more than manages, a lackadaisal approach to plot progression that his director seems to share. A lesser talent might explain their film's central premise earlier than an hour and a half in, but not Oshii.

I should mention that I'm not a big dogfight fan, so pretty much none of the movie's action scenes did anything for me. On the other hand, the relative scarcity of such scenes tells me that's not where Oshii's main interest lies either, so I don't think I'm really misjudging the film by ignoring them.

In fact, Oshii's main interest seems to lie (as usual) in a militaristic, emotionally reserved, doll-like woman, hilariously once again named Kusanagi. And frankly, this time I share his interest; she's much more compelling than the male lead, in that she actually seems to have opinions about things. And likes to bowl.

Yuichi is really worryingly passive, which might be a comment on the placidity and lack of ambition of (Japanese?) youth, if pretty much everyone else in the film didn't act in the exact same beaten-down manner. In fact, he doesn't seem all that young, despite the occasional bit of dialogue assuring us that he and his fellow pilots all look like children. I'd assume this just an artifact of the anime tendency to draw everyone young (which this movie does deliberately avert for most of the bit characters), if there weren't another two characters that are exactly the same age visually, who are definitely not part of the whole Kildren thing. Then again, those two characters are whores, which might be meant to be part of the whole "youth as expendable commodity" subtext of the film.

And speaking of subtexts, I'm not convinced of Justin Sevakis' metatextual reading, but if true, I think this alleged hate-letter to consumerism having a tie-in video game is a blacker irony than anything in the actual film.

I'm having a hard time deciding what to think of Sky Crawlers. It's not a bad movie exactly, but it doesn't really seem fully baked. I think a large part of that has to do with Yuichi's failure as a lead character. He is such a passive, empty shell that I find it very hard to empathize with or find interest in him. It's a good thing his callsign is "Cairn", because for most of the movie he may as well just be a big pile of rocks. He does eventually start showing signs of life about an hour in, once another new arrival starts acting as a catalyst, and I did genuinely enjoy the movie after that, but it was kind of a hard slog getting there. There are some nice bits, and it's a reasonably affecting tone poem, but Catch-22 this is not.

Ultimately, I'm just tired of all of Oshii's characters being so one-dimensionally numb and mopey. Real life is plenty depressing and pointless-- the point of art is to synthesize that raw dross into something meaningful. Oshii just seems to throw his hands up, more often than not. I thought being a pet owner was supposed to improve your mood.

1 comment:

  1. Watched it this past weekend. My feelings line up with yours, though I ended up enjoying it a bit more. I think Yuichi is effective enough as a cypher; his lackadaisical persona is tolerable during the stretch of the first half because of more lively characters like Naofumi and Suito.

    As far as interpretations go, after watching the film, the metatextual reading does seem off and reductive. Oshii's official statement on the movie seems to confirm this: