For decades, Korea has been living in the cultural and technological shadow of Japan. Determined to prove itself a modern nation worthy of competing with its island neighbor, copycat companies like Hyundai and Daewoo have become very adept at seizing the lower end of U.S. markets. Not content to limit their mimicry to automobiles and home electronics, Korean cinema — particularly horror (A Tale of Two Sisters) and animation — has also found its way to our shores.
Anyone who’s paid attention to the credits of The Simpsons or King of the Hill knows that Korea’s animation studios are already cranking out boatloads of product for American audiences. The post-apocalyptic science fiction Sky Blue (originally titled Wonderful Days) is the industry’s first big budget foray into original anime, and, at $10 million, it’s the most expensive animated film to ever come out of Korea.
The year is 2142 and the Earth is a ruined landscape of toxic pollution and endless acid rain. Ecoban, an enclosed city, is ruled by elites who live off the labor of “diggers,” oppressed and disposable workers. Ordered to quell a rebellion, Security Chief Jay (voiced by Catherine Cavadini), a humorless and inscrutable protagonist, struggles with her sympathy for the diggers’ plight and her sense of duty to Ecoban. When a rebel operative turns out to be a childhood sweetheart she thought long dead, Jay’s powerful beau becomes jealous and our heroine is (as the song says) torn between two lovers.
Borrowing liberally from films like Metropolis, Blade Runner and Road Warrior, Sky Blue doesn’t have an original idea in its head. The film is so dedicated to imitating the narrative conventions and themes of better-known Japanese anime (Akira, Ghost in the Shell) that it fails to create a story that even approaches unique.
Despite these shortcomings, the film’s visuals are nothing short of astonishing. Beautifully blending classic cel animation with CGI, Sky Blue begs to be seen on the big screen. Futuristic motorcycles zip across a blasted landscape of dirty browns and thundercloud grays. The city of Ecoban bursts with ethereal purples and liquid blues. A zero gravity gun battle at the end of the film, while confusing, is absolutely stunning.
Even the film’s simplest shots — light-streaked raindrops bouncing off the ground — mesmerize the eye with lifelike beauty.
One arresting image after another seduces you into ignoring the overly familiar plot and the effectively moody score adds a lyrical sense of melancholy that the story never achieves. If only the directors had invested as much loving detail into the story as the visuals, Sky Blue could have been a true triumph of anime.
Showing at the Main Art Theater (118 N. Main, Royal Oak; 248-263-2111).
Jeff Meyers writes about film for MetroTimes. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.