The Sky Crawlers: Must We Crawl Under That Sky?

March 25, 2009

sky crawlers

In a world not unlike our own, teen-aged pilots known as "kildrens" fight wars that people can follow on on TV like sport to prevent further real wars. In these wars kildrens fight and die not for countries but sponsoring companies, and the survivors engage in repetitious daily activities when they are not fighting in the sky. -Summary


Before I offer my interpretation, a brief review for those has not seen this yet. There are two aspects of the film that you should keep in mind.

1. In a sense, experience of Sky Crawlers is like watching a novel. Majority of the film consists of scenes where not much actually happens or is said, but attention to details are so subtle and deliberate, one could almost imagine these pictures narrating for the reader. For example, while the major Kasanagi seems to initially show no interest in her new pilot (Kannami), there are things that we notice, like her deep stares behind his back, picking up his cigarette butts when he’s not looking, and visiting his room to feel his bed sheet, which all hints to feelings deeper than simple curiosity for a new pilot. It inspires questions, such as “what’s Kasanagi’s relationship with Kannami?”, and “why is everyone trying to avoid talking about the dead pilot Kannami is replacing”, which are all mysteries that are crucial to fully appreciating The Sky Crawlers.

2. Another point is that the film’s direction is very slow and moody in a typical Oshii style. On one hand this atmospheric direction beautifully links to the repetitious and mundane life of kildren (children who do not age) on thematic level. On the other, the film may prove TOO slow and moody. There exists huge emotional distance between us and the characters so it’s very easy for one to not care for all those subtle details that are essential to understanding The Sky Crawlers. This is where Oshii once again lives up to his reputation for producing self-indulgent works so approach it with caution, or lots of caffeine.

sky crawlers

Pay attention to scenes like this

As for what Sky Crawlers was ultimately trying to say, you will find opinions ranging from “it’s yet another anti-war film!” to “it’s a critique of anime industry and otakus!”. I will say this: the film spoke about a group of youth far larger than just anime subculture, and most definitely wasn’t focused on the horrors of war. The following quotes on Jungian concept of “Eternal Boy” describes well many issues faced by both kildrens and young adults of our modern society (thanks to Wabisabi for info):

  • The suffering of normal young people consists partly in the fact that inwardly they are very efficient, intelligent and grown-up, but outwardly, they are not given the possibility of using these capacities. They are held back by society, with the result that they are bored.
  • After they loses the ecstatic, romantic élan of youth, there is danger of an unantiodrama into a completely cynical attitude toward women, life, work in general, and money.
  • They live only ‘on condition’; secretly they flirt with the idea of suicide. At every step of their lives, they think they will try something or other, and that if it does not work, they will kill themselves.

Kildrens spend their time repeating the same activities. Reading the same newspaper, the same beer, the same meaningless promiscuity and accepting the society’s demands by risking their life in this ‘war’. One might say much of  our young adults in modern society has become kildrens themselves. Sky is blue and vast, but they do not fly and soar through that vast expanse of freedom. Instead they crawl. They strut and fret, caught under the repetitions of meaningless activities, forever running away from The Teacher. But for once Oshii is optimistic and provides hope, and that hope lies within the characters. Look at Tokino, Mitsuya, Jinrou, Kusanagi and Kannami, and look at the different choices they have made. We don’t always have to crawl under that sky.

sky crawlers


20 Responses to “The Sky Crawlers: Must We Crawl Under That Sky?”

  1. Owen S Says:

    You have just single-handedly convinced me to watch this. Thanks.

  2. gaguri Says:

    Mission accomplished? lol the pleasure is mine.

  3. Martin Says:

    I’m glad this was the first blog post I’ve read that reviews this because, like old Owen above, you’ve piqued my interest enough to put it on my ‘must watch’ list now.

    My beef with Oshii is that he’s never really done a successful trade-off between the intellectual and the engaging – there’s an emotional gulf between the characters and the viewer. The best analogy I could come up with was drinking a glass of your favourite beer when it’s been in the fridge too long!

    By the sounds of things he’s got the balance right in this film…believe me, it’s rare that I find a film to be too slow or moody (Re: my next Kara no Kyoukai post which is about to leave Draft Rewrite Hell)! There’s a related issue to this regarding a divide which doesn’t seem to exist clearly outside my own head, so I’ll try to set my thoughts out on a post later this week.

    Thanks for the insight as always. ^_^

  4. schneider Says:

    Hey, I liked your interpretation of the title. The final Teacher scene wracked me the wrong way–I felt sad, but I got to realize that it’s also a kind of release.

    Oh, and, basset hound. 😛

  5. kadian1364 Says:

    The final Teacher scene was a release for me too! “Thank God this movie is over!”

    While watching Sky Crawlers, I multi-tasked equally exciting and profound activities, like: folding laundry, sorting my mail, checking updates to my NCAA bracket, and filing my tax returns. If the point of the film was to make me feel bored, it definitely succeeded!

    Let me say, your interpretation is not lost on me. I certainly enjoy my fair share of existentialist philosophy and other intellectually engaging discussions. Sky Crawlers the academic treatise is thought-provoking. But Sky Crawlers the film is impenetrable and tiresome. The characters have no charisma or charm, the basic plot points you outlined in the summary with just two sentences takes the greater part of two hours (as in, the length of the entire movie) to reveal themselves, and the whole time I’m thinking, “All this great CG, wasted.” It feels much more like an exercise in the director’s self-indulgent wankery than something resembling entertainment. Rather than watching a novel, it’s more like watching someone else read a novel.

    There seems to be a huge ravine between what I expect from a film and what Oshii presents. I want to be wowed by brilliant graphics, to empathize with characters, to react instinctually as much as intellectually, and to generally enjoy myself. The philosophy, the hard-hitting moral themes, they can come along, but I must be entertained first. And there, that first, most elementary step, is where I feel The Sky Crawlers fails.

  6. gaguri Says:

    Thanks ^^. Your analogy is quite fitting, and that is part of what makes Oshii unique, for better or worse, probably worse but no matter…I’m not sure if Kara no Kyoukai movie can be compared to it in terms of atmosphere though (but I have my bias to that movie so meh), so it might help to read kadian’s comments below as a balance.

    lol the hound. He’s actually one of those subtle hints from the beginning to the mystery of Jinrou and Kannami’s identity, isn’t he. You kind of first wonder ‘what the hell was the point of that dog?@?@?’

    I understand your point of view all too well. Actually I think lot more people are going to agree with you than I after watching the film. I agree that it fails as entertainment but I wouldn’t say it fails as a film. It is very much a director’s self-indulgent wankery (Miyazaki called Oshii a thinker, while himself an entertainer), but the way he uses the medium to convey his message (not just the message. If one could judge based only on message, you would only need to write it and not animate it) has high merits but the problem is that his works are so difficult to approach (I’d say this is one of those films that require 2 viewings but that’s just me…).

    But I do not mind this, since direction was great, and that is something I value very highly in anime. For the record I rated this movie 8/10 in MAL scale. However I started to really feel for Kasanagi towards the end as her pain and frustration became increasingly evident. It makes for a quite a different second viewing when you start to see why these characters are acting this way, and the kind of feelings they’re hiding underneath that surface.

  7. Milkymagic Says:

    I thought this was a great overview of the film, I’ve been dying to see it for sometime, but haven’t found it anywhere at the moment. War and the psychological effects involved are a great subject that a good amount of works know how to discuss, and this looks to take a different angle than Oshii’s Patlabor films (two of his finest achievements in my opinion).

    As for Oshii: The Director, I agree he is an acquired taste. He’s my all-time favorite director because I love to think and watch something at the same time.

    I usually have a little trouble finding anime that talk about subjects on an intellectual level, or at least give me something to chew on as I watch it, and he does a good job putting things through a magnifying glass as a way to keep me pondering about subjects as the film goes on. I’d say he philosophizes as much as I do in my off-time, so it brings me comfort to see a director wish to study things in such a manner.

    Some directors don’t even wish to challenge their viewers quite on the level he does, and he’s still one of those traditional directors that focuses on his scenarios and adds commentary as opposed to throwing down some controversial sequences or overly colorful imagery in the name of hype like some popular anime I’ve peeked at recently. I’m not trying to hammer down on the unique and experimental approach that some directors take these days, I find it intriguing and appealing actually, it’s just that I really miss the old-timers like this guy. Sometimes I just want to immerse myself in a subject, and think very deeply about it, letting the imagery entrance me into the theme as I’m debating it.

    My love of older anime is my badge of honor, and Achille’s Heel at the same time.

    And I wouldn’t change a thing about that. ^_-

    I look forward to seeing this movie at some point Mr. Gaguri! ^_^

  8. Milkymagic Says:

    And to elaborate on my last comment, it’s not that I think anime should be made a certain way, just that I see the novelty, and even qualities of an Oshii film when I view it.

    I’d say directors like Akiyuki Shinbo are doing a great service for modern anime by injecting spurts of abstraction into a lot of series, and I hear a lot about Yuuki as well, he seems really cool.

    It’s all a matter of what I can interpret from an anime, and what I ultimately got out of it. Hideaki Anno, Takahiro Omori, and Isao Takahata remain three other directors that I ultimately praise, and even they have their own unique methods and styles.

    If I had to compare another anime director to Oshii, Ryutaro Nakamura is like the next best thing for me (he directed Serial Experiments Lain, Colorful, Kino’s Journey, REC, and Ghost Hound).

    Didn’t mean to spam things up, but I thought I’d clarify the idea that I don’t dislike newer anime, just that I see value in the methods of older directors like Oshii.

    Keep up the good work with you blog! ^_^

  9. OGT Says:

    I keep having the nasty, nasty feeling that reading Sky Crawlers reviews and interpretations thereof are more interesting than watching the movie. Which I suppose confirms Miyazaki’s statement that he’s a “thinker” and not an “entertainer”.

    As I tend to require “emotional closeness” to the characters to properly experience a fiction (the lack thereof making the fiction more “difficult”, or, rather, more like a work of nonfiction than fiction) I’m still very waffle-y on Oshii, but I can’t deny that he’s nothing if not thought-provoking.

  10. Milkymagic Says:

    I think entertainment is what you make of it, some people are entertained by thinking very deeply about subjects, some people are entertained when there’s flashy and beautiful imagery tied to a memorable score and a batch of loveable characters littering the screen. There’s either mental or physical activity, and sometimes there’s even both. I like a happy movie next to my brooding epic, or an isolated slice-of-life next to something that’s more open and worldly.

    Miyazaki entertains me best when he hits an idea or point about adulthood, the environment, or even the idea of adolesence (Totoro was his best representation of this asthetic). His work is very entertaining and he’s made a lot of great movies in my opinion, as there were only two films thus far I didn’t like from him (Castle in the Sky was a lame retread of Castle of Cagliostro, and Howl’s Moving Castle confused me). But being a bit of a pessimist, I do admire the darker side of the human mind, and it just isn’t enough for me to watch characters who are happy or have good ends to their adventures. I want to hear both sides of the story.

    In the reality I live in, there’s a lot of people in my family living a tough life, and a lot of Miyazaki’s works feel like escapism when I compare my life to them, but it’s also an escapism that’s appreciated when he does it right (for me, it’s like looking through a telescope to a world I’ll never get to live in). Oshii relates to my need for understanding the world, and why some people are at a crossroads with how their life is running through their difficult existences. Some of us are busy living our lives and finding ways to get through the day, looking for adventure and experiencing new things on our way to finding what’s at the end of the road. Others feel trapped and wish to find that open window where they can let all their thoughts out, things that have been bothering them because they couldn’t help buy ask themselves,”Why?” when they observe the world around them, like there was something about their world that bothered them and that the world in itself was an enigma that needed answering. If you do not seek answers, then perhaps what you seek is adventure, and that’s the way I see it.

    Personally…I seem to rotate between the two! XD

    And now I need to shut up. >_<

  11. gaguri Says:

    My god Milky that’s enough words to build another wall of China! Don’t worry about the multiple comments, it’s great to get your thoughts out like this ^_^

    For me what elevates his work from non-fiction to a piece of art is the way he uses animated medium to convey his message that aren’t possible through words/documentary style. The fact that his works are difficult to approach means he will be losing tons of audience, so that’s an area I’d like him to work more on. There are ways to both entertain and provoke thought and Oshii seems to be concentrating only on the latter in his stubborness.

    And I think Oshii has lot of qualities other than just being thought-provoking. His previous movies for example, most notably GITS movies, they were just absolutely beautiful to look at. However in The Sky Crawlers, they are not as beautiful or imaginative, but this time he manages to be less pretentious in that we don’t require bibles or some philosopher to fully understand his message.

    What can I say? I should talk about Oshii more often to get you fired, haha…I’ll just say that I agree with lot of what you’ve said, although not all of them.

  12. OGT Says:

    @gaguri: Well, yes, you can be “entertaining” and “thought-provoking” and Milkymagic is correct: “entertainment” is what you make of it. On the other hand “art” is also what you make of it. I like to think and watch something too, but I’d rather thinking be ancillary to watching (or “entertained”) than the other way around, with the best case scenario being the two working in tandem rather than one overpowering the other.

    Out of the only two Oshii movies I’ve seen I liked the first Mobile Police Patlabor (the other being Ghost in the Shell), which is probably Oshii being more conventionally “entertaining” than “thought-provoking”. That and I’ve never been big on “artistry”, since I focus more on function than form and form by itself just…doesn’t work for me. It’s that whole “working in tandem” thing.

  13. gaguri Says:

    Well as for the form and function, I wonder if form has to be entertaining for it to work with function. There are many films, such as the famous “Irreversible”, which is anything but entertaining, but without that revolting, unbearably cruel and disgusting scenes, the more beautiful following scenes will not be same without them. Overall, the film itself is not entertaining, and perhaps not as thought-provoking either, but the experience itself is still very intense, in a strangely horrible way. Just as many installation art don’t aim for entertainment but to stimluate some type of spatial experience, I think some films/anime aim for experience that is neither entertainment nor thoughts exclusively, but something else, and there is really no way to describe it with few words, it is to be experienced and impossible to be written in a non-fiction manner.

  14. Milkymagic Says:

    Very true, whenever you talk about Oshii, it seems like I jump right in and say something. It also helps that your signature at Anime Academy gives me an idea of what’s on your blog at the moment. ^_-

    @OGT: I see your point of view, and I’m grateful that you didn’t hammer down on my opinion when I expressed myself, I know there’s a very big gap between fans of Oshii, and people who have difficulty enjoying his movies.

    I’d say a lot of things that come with form and function is your viewpoint on appreciating media. What do you watch anime for? And what would you say anime is capable of? For me, it can entertain, but it can also educate me too. Having a balance never hurt anyone though, I’ll agree with that, but with where I stand, I think it’s good there’s people like Oshii who wish to break borders in what people commonly think “entertainment” claims to be.

    I also agree that Art can be interpreted however you wish, and I’m the kind of person who looks at a piece of work at a museum and ponders the history and meaning behind it. Likewise with an anime work, I want to know who the director is first (it’s just what I do), and I always wonder if there’s some underlying theme or mood to the story. If it’s just a bare-bones adventure flick meant to throw out a “magical swagger” as it were, then I’ll likely enjoy it on those terms. If it’s a personal message from the director or original author inside the work, then I want to know what they have to say about a given subject. Oshii fills my need to go beyond entertainment and search for something even deeper than that, and I can still remember how mindblown I was when I first watched Angel’s Egg over six years ago, being that it didn’t function like all the other anime I had been watching around that time.

    Abstraction is something I usually admire a lot for the record, and I can say that Satoshi Kon makes anime films that are above and beyond thanks to his visual approach, likewise with Akiyuki Shinbo and Ryutaro Nakamura.

    But that’s life, you have your own tastes, and you find those with their own too. I know I can relate with some fans I meet, and with others I just want to understand their point of view, but it’s always nice when you can find a series or movie that another person also likes and find yourself not alone in your opinions. Case In Point: I’ve met way more Miyazaki fans than Oshii, but when I meet an Oshii fan, it’s always something of a treat for me. ^_^

    Shameless Promotion Time!

    This is my Favorite Directors Blog in case you’re curious as to who were the greatest influences on me in my time as a fan, I’d update Takahiro Omori’s career with Baccano! and Jigoku Shoujo Futakomori now that I’ve seen them, and it’s sad to think I basically ditched my blog after working on it for around a month. I really should get back to it.

    @Gaguri: Indeed, I agree with the idea of media entertaining on a possible spatial level, I know there’s anime I’ve seen that tickled my brain because they tried things I’ve never seen before (like Cat Soup for example). But I feel entertainment can be one of many things, so as a less than conventional method that these abstract products take into mind are for those who are curious and find themselves looking for something new, I know I watch a lot of weird films because I want to see something different than what’s currently popular, be it anime or live-action film. But don’t mistake that last sentence for me being biased toward popular products, as I’ve liked plenty of anime that have gained the popularity of many, like some works from Hayao Miyazaki and Makoto Shinkai (though I imagine Satoshi Kon would qualify too).

    And I agree that Oshii has a tendency to make himself difficult with attracting many audiences, but he has a fanbase from what I observed too, which means that he hasn’t gone completely ignored either. Like any artist with something to say, he’s got an audience out there that’s willing to listen to him, like me for instance. ^_^

    I never liked the word “pretentious” for the record, it always felt like a word used to put down people that had something to say. But at the same time, I see your point and understand there was no ill-will to it or anything, because it does feel like you need to be educated in certain areas to really appreciate his films (or ambitious enough to search for the meanings behind what he does at the very least). But from what I’ve observed through the years of viewing anime and live-action films alike, it seems like a lot of real artsy directors like to take a self-indulgent approach as a means to express themselves fully.

    Glad you appreciate my comments by the way! 😀

  15. vendredi Says:

    Still need to get around to watching this, but one thing of it that I found interesting is how the entire aesthetic has a bit of a subtle shift.

    The character design hasn’t quite been completely “moe-fied” but if you compare this and say, Jin-roh side by side, one sees big differences in the way characters are drawn.

    In fact, I wonder if the aesthetics actually will work against the pacing of Sky Cralwers.

    Jin-roh was slow, but the characters had much less stylized faces and could portray more nuanced emotions. I’m curious to see how the different art style will work out in Sky Crawlers.

  16. gaguri Says:

    Having seen the film, I can say that your observation on aesthetics is quite accurate. Comparing to Jin-Roh might be bit unfair though, as the script was done by Oshii and the direction was someone else. It’s funny though, how Oshii had no control over the direction, but the film still reeks of his touch lol.

    Whether this aesthetics will work against The Sky Crawlers or not will depend on your perception. It no doubt ties beautifully with the themes of mundane and repetitions of young adults’ lives, but by doing so may lose many audience because it’s so hard to emotionally attach to the characters.

  17. cello85 Says:

    how ironic, i just watched this film yesterday and I was planning on reviewing it next week, in light of friendly competition i’ll postpone it 🙂

    Thanks for the comment on my blog, you know I haven’t seen millenium actress 😦 Putting it on the list, although I am so far not too big on Satoshi Kon which might explain my low rating. Different strokes different folks 😛

  18. gaguri Says:

    Haha…friendly competition…although I recommend millenium actress, perhaps you might not like it as much as Tokyo Godfathers since it is in a way, similar to Perfect Blue in its dream/reality approach, although definitely not as neurotic. In any case Millenium Actress still remains imo one of the best anime movies.

  19. sdshamshel Says:

    A vital part of the Sky Crawlers IS how long and dragging it is. There’s a point where you’re watching the movie, especially if you’re paying full attention it and are not getting distracted by other things, where you try hard to remember what’s happened in the movie and it becomes a hazy, boring blur that almost puts you to sleep.

    And that is where Oshii gets you. This is his trap. He’s successfully conveyed the monotony of life in this movie to the point that even you’re feeling it. The movie drags on forever but quite intentionally so.

    Whether that’s a good thing or not is up in the air, but don’t even begin to think that the slow, slow, slow pacing of the movie is ever a mistake.

  20. gaguri Says:

    Sorry, I don’t see that much difference between ‘slow’ and ‘dragging’ 😦

    But thanks for summarising my points so succintly, I don’t see where we disagree exactly. I didn’t say his dragging style was a drawback, it’s what makes him special, but it’s going to undoubtely turn off many people (evidenced by some comments in this post), and therefore it needed to be mentioned in a review for those who has not seen it yet.

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