Oh man, where do I even start with The Sky Crawlers? I’ve watched this incredible movie thrice, and it is long and by far one of my favorite anime films ever made. Every time I rewatch it, my perception of every event is entirely different. No, the movie hasn’t changed, and what I know of it hasn’t changed, but it’s simply grown. Just as I only ‘liked’ the movie the first time, ‘loved’ it the second, and ‘adored’ it the third, I similarly was only coming to terms with it the first time, understanding it the second time, and analyzing it the third. I think that having seen this movie three times, I can’t even remember what it was like to have only seen it once… and maybe that’s quite representative of the nature of my relationship to the actual plot of the film.
Moreover, I do not feel that The Sky Crawlers is a movie that I have merely ‘watched three times’ – I feel as though my experience with it, and it’s effect on me, transcends merely viewing it. The movie is more than the movie itself. I have done a lot of ‘research’ on this films, in the way I think of such. I know all about the director Mamoru Oshii – I’ve seen most of his works, and I ‘get’ him. I get the things that he would want me to get from his movie. I’ve watched all of the bonus features, interviews, behind the scenes stuff that came on the blu-ray DVD (if you can find any way to get your hands on this stuff, DO SO. Hours of extremely informative and amazing videos!) I’ve read about the original novel, and it’s relationship to the anime. (Supposedly, the author thought there was no way any kind of movie could be made out of it… but as soon as it became that Mamoru Oshii was making the film, he knew it would work. Likewise, Oshii was apparently very keen on being able to make this film.) And of course, I’ve done the ‘research’ of simply watching the movie until I knew it by heart. To where I can recall all of the images, the dialog, the reactions and meanings and subtext… I feel as though I have my brain around the film.
So know that I am very ‘sure’ of myself when I talk about this movie. I am writing as though everything I say is fact, because from my perspective, it is. I also apologize if this makes my writing about this movie confusing, as I may be inclined to under-explain what makes me feel a certain way about things.
The Sky Crawlers is a movie about hopeless youth, and ultimately about finding a reason to… well, not die. Or at least not try to. It is not a movie with a clear-cut idea of what a person should do in life, just some different paths. Some different ways that people will deal with death, and some different ways that those people could deal with them a little better, just by finding a sparking reason.
Like many great stories with a message that applies to the real world, the so-called ‘world’ of The Sky Crawlers is no different from our own. It uses a flavoring of fiction to deliver the idea that it is, in fact, another world, but the inner workings are all the same. It’s only the face of things that is different. The Kildren who will never grow old are just our youth who never ‘mature’. The movie takes elements of our world and simply ‘officializes’ them so that they have more impact. In our world, war is like a game. In it’s world, war IS a game. In our world, our lost youth smoke, drink, party, have sex, and don’t generally give a fuck. In it’s world, that is legal and expected. In our world, people are just trying to find a way to keep going, with the threat of everything of death’s umbrella hanging over. In it’s world, that death is simply more apparent.
History repeats itself. Moments repeat themselves. In the Sky Crawlers, a dead soldier is replaced by a clone with the same tics and the same appearance, with most of the same personality. It’s not so different from us. When you strip people down to the bare bones of their personalities, there are only so many given archetypes to be born out of any one culture. The 202 is made up of a fun-loving party guy, a cynical thinker, a laid-back untalkative guy, a troubled woman, a normal woman, and one cool romantic. I don’t think it’s hard to find one to relate to. Mine is the main character, Kannami Yuichi, right down to his taste in women.
One thing every person who lives a full life must come to terms with is the fact of death. Some would say that the time that you realize the approach of death is the time that you truly become ‘mature’. Maybe that’s why people who go through traumatic experiences as children ‘mature’ faster. Depending on how you define ‘maturity’. Maybe you are ‘mature’ when you decide, in recognition of your death, that you will do as you please to enjoy your life while it lasts. Is it mature to spend your days smoking and drinking, partying, having sex, carrying on, and not really caring what happens to you? Or is that actually true childhood? The Kildren will crack open a Green Label and explain that they are still children in the same moment.
What is one to do when they become aware of death? Many would probably try to push it to the back of their minds, and pretend like it would never really happen to them. The Kildren can’t do this. They are fighter pilots in a never-ending war. They know that they are going to die, and that it will happen soon. There is absolutely no reason for them to live in fear of death and to pretend that a future always exists for them. So what do you do? You try to enjoy it. And what happens when it becomes too painful to do that? You try to end it sooner.
Kusanagi Suito becomes fed up with life. Why does she keep living, inciting hope, when death is just waiting for her around the corner? Why does she have to have a daughter, and to have to love her, when she knows that she will die before she can raise her fully? Why does she have to feel the pain of her loved ones dying if she has no other reason to live? Of course, I’ve felt the same way constantly. Kusanagi has a gun to point at herself. She has an undefeatable enemy she can throw herself at in hopes of being killed. She only lives because no human being has the power to kill themselves. It is against their base instincts. That’s why she runs towards every opportunity to let someone else do it for her. I would do the same. If I had a real enemy, or a real lover, who could end my life for me, I would beg them to do it. But I’m not like Kusanagi. Somehow, I’m more like Yuichi.
Because there is another way to live on with death in mind. It’s to grin and bear it. To face that insurmountable foe without fear, in hopes of breaking it. In hopes of destroying the circle. In hopes of finding ‘life’. The truth is, there is no breaking it. The world never changes. Yuichi fights Teacher at the end of the movie, and he gets shot down. But he went down swinging. In hopes of protecting the woman he loves – in hopes of finding a future for the daughter of his former self – that was the greatest happiness. Even if the world ends tomorrow, if you can find something to hold on to, you can enjoy yourself enough to live until then.
That is the ultimate message of The Sky Crawlers. In the end, Kusanagi decides not to die. She decides to love her daughter, to take care of herself, to embrace the future, even if it will only last briefly. It is not a decision to ‘live’. No one can make that decision, because it is not an available option. You are going to die. It’s only a matter of what you try to bring yourself to do until then.
Is The Sky Crawlers saying that this is the right way to live? I don’t think so. Yuichi wanted it of Kusanagi. It’s something that I want out of people. It’s why, even though I am so often on the brink of suicide, I can still enjoy people, and still wish them to live and to succeed. And it’s why I can still be so sure of myself. It’s why even though I know I am going to die, I also truly feel that I am going to do so much before the time comes. Am I making the right choice? Is it really true that this suffering will be worth anything? Probably not. I think that the actual ‘adults’ in The Sky Crawlers are always asking the same, and that’s why they just watch the Kildren without saying a word.
Maybe I would be better off just killing myself right now. But because of my personality, I just can’t do that. I’ll just have to keep on pushing through the pain. If I had someone like Kusanagi in my life, maybe I really would make it, and could really take on that final opponent like Yuichi does. As it stands, the only thing pulling me through are anime like this, and people like you.
The title of this post was taken from the lyrics to ‘Go With the Flow‘ by Queens of the Stone Age, which is pretty much about the same thing as this movie.