PIFF Report: The Sky Chasers

Yesterday was a day of problems — technical glitches, language issues, and misunderstandings. I’ll get to that some more in another post, I hope. But I mention it here because it affected the one movie I was able to see yesterday: The Sky Chasers.

This is a Japanese animation by the director of Ghost In The Shell, one of my favorite animated films. Mamoru Oshii likes to lace his movies with pretty weighty philosophy. Sometimes it’s buried under the surface, sometimes it’s given through very direct dialogue. The Sky Chasers is no exception, but what surprised me was the pace of it. It’s a slow-moving film. Character movements are languid and reactions to other characters and events are delayed, as if they were considering every encounter before reacting. I thought at one point that if this were a live action movie I wouldn’t mind. But with animation, I expect a lot of movement.

With that said, I enjoyed it even if I wasn’t thrilled by it. Early on, one of the characters mentions Camus, and there certainly is an existential quality here. The film almost “reads” like The Stranger (insofar as i remember it in college). This extends to the narrative itself, where characters repeat their daily lives seemingly without purpose or meaning. I could go on with this aspect but I’d give it away. I will say that I saw the “twist” coming, but it was still satisfying.

The overt anti-war message is delivered in a concrete fashion when the female lead drunkenly opines on war and peace. But there’s also a subtle message delivered in the more metaphysical aspect of the story. Oshii seems to be making a point about humanity as a collective. If we send an individual to die in war, then do it again with another individual, aren’t we in a sense sending the same “individual,” the same person, again over and over?

The movie shifts from Japanese to English in a very strange way. We seem to be in some alternate WWII European existence, where technology is different and media coverage is instantaneous. So are these characters European or Japanese? Why, whenever the voice is “mediatized” (through the fighter jet com system and when interviewed for TV) is the dialogue in English, but the rest of the time it’s in Japanese? I’m sure there’s a reason, but the problem is I couldn’t understand the English because of the accents, the dogfight sound design, and the low-fidelity processing of the voices. It’s particularly aggravating because there was a crucial bit of dialogue at the end that I couldn’t hear, but which was subtitled for the Koreans.

Then there was the technical collapse. Fifteen minutes before the end of the movie, and right when the truth was revealed, the generator at the outdoor arena cut out. It was actually kind of a cool effect. The film slowly broke apart visually and audibly, and given the content of the dialogue, I thought we were drifting suddenly into another realm and the narrative curtain was being lifted. But no, it was just the projector running out of juice. We waited more than a half hour before the film started up again. To PIFF’s credit, they’re giving a refund to everyone who paid to see the movie.

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