- Volition in the Face of Absurdity
In 2001, Oshii Mamoru directed Avalon (Avaron), his last film with screenwriter Itō Kazunori. [End Page 306] Oshii had worked with Itoh on most of his films since The Red Spectacles (1987, Akai megane). Once Oshii stopped using Itoh for scripts, he began writing and directing his own films, such as Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence (2004, Inosensu) and Tachigui: The Amazing Lives of the Fast Food Grifters (2006, Tachiguishi retsuden). However, The Sky Crawlers (2008) marked a new point in Oshii's films—with this film, he was adapting someone else's novel (written by Mori Hiroshi) and working with a young screenwriter named Itō Chihiro.1 Although she had no background in the anime industry, Itoh had previously written scripts for Crying Out Love, in the Center of the World (2004, Sekai no chūshin de, ai o sakebu, directed by Yukisada Isao; also known as Socrates in Love in the English translation) and the film adaptation of the Mishima Yukio novel Spring Snow (2005, Haru no yuki, directed by Yukisada Isao). Her work on the latter is what originally drew Oshii's attention. This change of screenwriters may indicate a change in direction for Oshii's filmmaking toward the less solipsistic. The Sky Crawlers is similar to a number of earlier Oshii films but unique in its approach to the subject matter.
Many of Oshii's films involve a protagonist trapped within a physical or social world, who needs to break from a cyclical monotony or a persistent illusion. This is probably most evident in Urusei Yatsura 2: Beautiful Dreamer (1984, Urusei yatsura 2: Byūtifuru doriimaa), one of Oshii's earliest feature films. In Beautiful Dreamer, the main characters become stuck in a looping cycle of dreams because of an innocent wish one of them inadvertently made. Similar loops, either real or metaphorical, also appear in Avalon, Ghost in the Shell (1995, Kōkaku kidōtai) and Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence, but the one film that may be the most like The Sky Crawlers in its overarching theme is Patlabor 2 (1993, Kidō keisatsu patlabor the movie 2), which concerns a world where Japan profits economically from the violence inflicted by other countries, particularly the United States. Although Japan has seemingly been at peace since the end of World War II, Patlabor 2 Oshii questions whether such profit taking truly qualifies as living in peace.
In all of the preceding films, the protagonist escapes from the cyclical or illusory world in some way. In The Sky Crawlers, though, the main characters are young teen pilots who have never known anything but flying and fighting. They have only hazy memories of their pasts and know they have no future, since they will never age. They are called Kildren, and they fight on behalf of a large corporation that is fighting another large corporation for the entertainment of many. Theoretically, such circuses are designed to both pacify the populace and prevent "real" war from breaking out between the countries. Nevertheless, the war of the Kildren is very real to them. In the end, in spite of the attachments he forms with his fellow pilots, particularly with commanding officer Kusanagi, protagonist Kannami is unable to escape the fate of the Kildren and perishes in battle. However, throughout the film Oshii has left clues that imply that the Kildren come from some sort of cloning program and that even after they die, some version of them will return to fight again.
Ironically, The Sky Crawlers may just be one of Oshii's most hopeful films. He certainly seems to view it as such. In the promotional materials for the film, Oshii is quoted as saying "I don't want to give young people a hollow sense of justice or a clichéd pep talk. As a filmmaker, I'd like to show them a small and quiet but truthful hope with this movie."2
Throughout his films, Oshii constantly references and quotes from other works of art and literature, and The Sky Crawlers is...