Even though I one time appeared onstage with Roger Ebert at a film festival because he regarded me as an "anime expert," I would say that my love of the form is a cautious one. I love select works, and it's not always the sacred canon that I'm crazy about. When it comes to the work of Mamoru Oshii, I respect it all, but "Ghost In The Shell" and its sequel both impress me more on a technical level than on an emotional one. I know people who are quite smitten with both films, and I can see what it is that they're responding to. It just doesn't ring my bell the same way. I'm far more partial to "Jin-Ro," which he wrote, and which I think is fairly amazing. And if you've seen "Avalon," his film from 2001, you know he's ambitious.
I didn't have any particular expectations when I was sent "The Sky Crawlers" on BluRay for review, but I was pleased to see it show up. I'm a total BluRay junkie right now, and I find that's the first stuff to make its way into the player when I have a choice these days. And the idea of a BluRay of a new Oshii film? Verrrry appealing.
Technically, the disc is a knockout, and the animation is both impressively rendered, but it's also reproduced with a vivid intensity that is the reason I own a BluRay player. There are still plenty of great DVD transfers produced all the time... I just reviewed "The Friends of Eddie Coyle" earlier today, which is a knockout... but there is something about a BluRay transfer that is fully calibrated and cranked that is like nothing else I've owned yet in my long and varied history as the owner of three major formats before BluRay. I've always been the guy who gets into home video in as heavy a way as possible, moving from VHS to laserdisc to DVD, really buying like mad. And each generation, there are titles that wow. I just find that with BluRay, it seems like it's more titles, and even more obscure titles. I am routinely wowed, which seems like it's almost unfair.
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And, yes, "The Sky Crawlers" wowed me, both as an audio and a visual experience. It's gorgeous, inventive animation. There are moments where it's very still, simply rendered characters simply talking. And times where it's ultra-realistic air battles. There's a lot of mature material, but it's never overt or confrontational. It's adult in terms of the ideas it puts forward about war and about who has to fight those wars and what sort of quality of life that is. It's structured like a puzzle, as is fitting since it's based on the works of MORI Hiroshi, a SF writer working in a genre he describes as "science mystery." He's written a series of Sky Crawlers novels, and you can tell as you watch the film that there's a bigger world at play here. These are just a few characters we see in this film. We're just introduced to how these people live, and we just see these few lives that are impacted by this international war. We don't see the actual war beyond the few engagements the characters are involved in. And there's certainly a reason for that. And that reason is fairly metaphorical, even a bit heavy-handed, but Oshii keeps it all balanced just right.
Sony's been doing very good work with anime titles lately. This one, the new "Final Fantasy: Advent Children" disc, titles like "Paprika" and "Tekkonkinkreet," all of which i have here on BluRay, are really great showcases for just how beautiful these titles can be in this new fomat. Any hardcore fan that sits through a presentation of his or her particular favorite anime title on BluRay would instantly be converted, and this would be a title I'd use in particular. I was just as engaged by the film visually as I was intellectually, which is a pretty rare feat in film science-fiction. I hope Oshii's film finds the audience it deserves.
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