Directed by Ryuhei Kitamura, 2003, 123 mins., starring Shaku Yumiko, Tanihara Shosuke, and Osawa Takao.
What happens when we die? Is there an afterlife? What happens to someone's spirit when they're murdered? Where do all these vengeful ghosts come from in Japanese horror movies? Big questions that you'll never know the answer to until you're in no position to tell anyone else, until then, you can tide yourself over with this interpretation from Ryuhei Kitamura (Versus, Azumi) based on a manga of the same title by Takahashi Tsutomu.
Life is pretty good for detective Kanazaki (Tanihara Shosuke): sure, there's a nutbag serial killer on the loose who has a penchant for removing young women's hearts and running off with them, leaving the bodies swinging from ropes, but it's his wedding day, and his beautiful bride-to-be Mina (Shaku Yumiko) doesn't seem to mind Kanazaki's borderline obsession with the case and just wants him to be happy. However, Kanazaki's work is soon brought home as Mina becomes the latest victim of the serial killer, showing up to her wedding minus a heart.
As a victim of a murder, Mina's soul finds itself outside the Gate of Resentment where the Guardian, Izuko (Shiina Eihi of Audition fame) gives her three choices. She may either ascend to Paradise before being reborn, walk the world forever as a ghost, or curse and kill one living being. The latter option (although clearly favoured by Sadako, Kayako et al) would ensure Mina's soul be damned forever, as to kill would be to sentence yourself to eternal torment in Hell. Mina has twelve days to reach a decision, and in those twelve days she is free to visit the human world as a ghost where she can not be seen or able to interact with anyone besides a few psychically-tuned individuals.
While Kanazaki is trying to find his fiancée's killer, inept reporter Sayuri scores herself a cover story interview with big-name scientist Kudo Tatsuya (Osawa Takao); normally she'd never land a scoop this big, but it seems Kudo requested her specifically, so her boss begrudgingly lets her go, with a stern warning to not mess things up!
Back at the Gate of Resentment, Mina learns that the heart collector is none other than Kudo, so she decides to pay him a ghostly visit, and is somewhat shocked to learn that Kudo can see and hear her. He explains that he needs the hearts to offer up as a sacrifice to a demon who can grant his wishes. You see, Kudo's wife Eri is in a coma and cannot be cured. Kudo wants to save her, even if it means damning the whole world. He then introduces Mina to Rei (Kanae Uotani), his badass-yet-still-looks-fantastic-in-tight-clothes secretary who can also not only see and hear ghosts, but conveniently wields a sword that can "kill" them. She politely and tactfully removes Mina from the building by throwing her from a top storey window.
Photographer Kishi is developing the photographs from Sayuri's interview with Kudo. He is shocked to discover an apparition in one of the pictures reaching for Sayuri's heart. Kishi is extremely worried by this - the last time he saw such an apparition in a photograph, it was of a plane was doomed to crash spectacularly, leaving no survivors. Convinced Sayuri must be in trouble he frantically tries to contact her, but to no avail. He decides to go to the police, which brings him to Kanazaki.
Sayuri eventually returns Kishi's call, informing him that she is out on a date with Kudo. Refusing to acknowledge Kishi's warning, she hangs up. Kanazaki and Kishi must try and find her before she becomes the next victim.
My first surprise was with the pacing of this film. My first encounter with Kitamura was Versus, a fast-paced movie with lots of swordfighting and very little in terms of plot. My first encounter with Shaku Yumiko was Princess Blade (aka Shura Yukihime) a fast-paced movie with lots of swordfighting and very little in terms of plot. So I didn't think it unreasonable of me to be expecting Sky High to be another fast-paced movie with lots of swordfighting and very little in terms of plot, not least from the picture of Shaku on the cover holding a sword and looking all menacing (and by menacing, I mean cute ;-) ).
Sky High is surprisingly slow-paced. That's not to say the swordfights aren't there, and some of the fight choreography nearly as impressive as Versus, it's just that the combat takes a backseat to the story. Fortunately the story, while a little clichéd in places, has enough depth to carry this off. This is mainly due to the characters - while none of them are particularly deep or complicated, they're all colourful and likeable in their own way.
I was somewhat surprised to see how unused Shaku Yumiko was. While being one of the main characters, she was quite often missing from a lot of the main scenes and I felt her character development suffered a little as a result. She went from lost tormented spirit to sword-wielding asskicker a little too quickly and smoothly to be fully believable, and her sword-wielding asskicking was perhaps also a little underused. After seeing Princess Blade, I know she can handle a sword convincingly, yet her fight in Sky High (yes, she only has one) was all too brief. This is somewhat made up for by Kanae Uotani as Rei, who gets all the good fights, including the best one in the whole movie versus the psychic Mother Shuho.
Tanihara Shosuke plays the grieving husband and dedicated detective Kanazaki pretty well, although his scepticism towards all of the supernatural elements in the film gets mildly annoying after a while, particularly after the inevitable scene in which he is told things that only he and his departed fiancée would know, and yet still refuses to accept that her spirit is stood next to him. While sceptical characters are all well and good, it makes his decision towards the end of the movie, which involves him literally gambling his life on these supernatural elements being true, a little hard to swallow.
Osawa Takao as Kudo is excellent. Walking the tightrope between utter nutbag, and a guy who just wants to save his wife at any cost, he's never perceived as the good guy, but it's quite easy to sympathize with his motives, if not his methods.
I don't think that anyone films a swordfight quite as effectively as Kitamura, and this is just as evident here. He also shows that he has a good "directorial eye" over the less action-packed scenes also, each shot is framed perfectly. It's nice to see what he's capable of given a slightly bigger budget also, although some of the effects are still a little cheap-looking. Standing somebody under a torch doesn't really make for a convincing ghost - and the demon towards the end looks nothing short of terrible. Thankfully we only get a few glimpses.
Aside from a few minor gripes, Sky High is a very good addition to the supernatural action movie genre, and is well worth a watch.
Snowblood Apple Rating for this film:
Sex: 4/10 (This movie is a total babefest, but sadly no nudity)
Stolen hearts: 6/6
Films in a Similar Style: Versus, Azumi, Alive.
*** Enjoyable fluff***
Sky High Wallpaper
please note: the actual paper does not have the Snowblood Apple logo on it.
You can download this wallpaper here: [800x600] [1024x768]
Wallpaper credit: Koch, 2005
Snowblood Apple Filmographies
http://www.upcominghorrormovies.com/reviews/asian/skyhigh.php - UHM gives the movie the once-over
http://www.dvdvisionjapan.com/skyhigh.htm - DVD Vision Japan's verdict
http://www.midnighteye.com/interviews/ryuhei_kitamura.shtml - Midnight Eye do an auteur-ish interview with Kitamura
http://www.ryuhei-kitamura.com/en/trailer/ - trailers for all Kitamura's movies on his website
http://www.sarudama.com/movies/skyhigh.shtml - Scott Foutz sort of liked it
http://www.jpreview.com/Reviews%20HTML/skyhigh.htm - jpreview gives it a bit of a kicking