During the videotaped introduction to the film, Mamoru Oshii commented that the societies of highly developed economies have fostered a certain state of arrested development where young people, accustomed to privilege, find little motivation to move on from their current situation. This sense of stasis, cultural amnesia, and immediacy also pervades the consciousness of the genetically engineered, perennially adolescent Kildren fighter pilots of Oshii’s The Sky Crawlers. Based on the serial novel by Hiroshi Mori, the film is a brooding and densely philosophical exposition into the nature of love, war, memory, aging, and identity. The idea of eternal struggle is suggested in the opening dogfight between obscured, faceless (and apparently polyglot) combatants that plays out over an unfamiliar landscape, and carries through to the image of Kannami (Ryo Kase) descending from the sky in an undamaged plane after the aerial encounter. Transferred to another base in order to replace a pilot who had died under murky circumstances, Kannami immediately finds himself drawn to the squadron’s enigmatic base commander, Kusanagi (Rinko Kikuchi), fueled in part by her own inscrutable history (one that includes a school-aged daughter who is nearing adolescence) and rumors of her affair with Kannami’s predecessor. Settling into a familiar ritual of interminable dogfights, diner meals, trips to brothels, and company-sponsored public relations tours, Kannami is fascinated by the stories of an almost mythic arch rival with a characteristic black panther marking near the tail of his plane whose encounter leads to certain death, an idea that grows even more intriguing when Kusanagi reveals that their nemesis was once a squadron trainer known as the “Teacher” who turned his allegiance – and eternal youth – to became an adult pilot for the competing agency. As in Anne Fontaine’s psychological drama How I Killed My Father, the metaphoric killing of the father in The Sky Crawlers also represents a passage into maturity, where identity and self-determination are formed by moving away from the shadows cast by one’s predecessors. Concluding with the shot of Kusanagi’s daughter searching the empty skies before walking away, the image becomes a paradoxical continuity of memory and its systematic erasure.
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