The increasingly global influence of Japanese anime — and its reinterpretation in a different cultural context — is the central interest in ambitious South Korea animated feature, “Sky Blue.” Ecological theme embedded in this futurist dystopian saga barely advances the standard genre elements of anime action pics, and, during many stretches, the pic plays like one long chase. Nevertheless, fashioned with ultra-sophisticated means, “Sky Blue” will be a must-see for anime fans around the world, especially in the well-directed English-lingo version preemed at Sundance, promising healthy coin following its local July 2003 opening.
Because of the film’s depiction of Earth in 2142 as an environmental disaster zone, with the sky blanketed in a musty, dirty gray, the dim light dictates an extremely desaturated color schemeunder Moon Sang Kim’s direction. Along with a relentlessly downbeat tone, “Sky Blue” becomes a decidedly split experience: While admirably true to its imagined world of muck and gloom, the nearly colorless screen image tends to make pic visually dull, even with the use of state-of-the-art techniques combining 24p lensing, 3-D and CGI backgrounds, 2-D character animation and live action miniatures. Makers often re-shot frames more than 60 times during the compositing process, marking this the most technically accomplished South Korean anime to date.
Ecoban, one of the planet’s few cities, is run with an iron first. The brutality is felt hardest by “diggers,” who do all of the burg’s dirty work. In a viscous opening sequence, Commander Locke (David Naughton) thinks nothing of expending hundreds of digger lives in the interest of short-term profits. Witnessing his actions and shocked to the core, female soldier Jay (Catherine Cavadini) is told by her lover and security chief Cade (Kirk Thornton) to ignore Locke’s crimes.
Rebel soldier Shua (Marc Worden) infiltrates Ecoban’s security, leading to the first of several chases that consume “Sky Blue,” culminating with a tender, reflective scene as Jay — alone and confronting the masked Shua — realizes he is her amour from childhood.
Jay contacts Dr. Noah (Naughton also), inventor of Ecoban’s carbon-transforming energy supply, who has himself turned rebel and wants to destroy his own invention, which has become a massive polluter.
Personal grudges, past emotions and present class conflicts get played out in a fairly elementary way in a pic decked out with anime’s requisite share of cool existential dudes, goofy sidekicks and snarling baddies that will seem for many viewers recycled from such recent Japanime as “Vampire Hunter D” and “Cowboy Bebop.”
Still, the overall command of animation technique is extremely impressive on the bigscreen, and the final reward of a sunny sky emerging to reveal a natural color spectrum (after nearly 80 minutes of near-grays) is unusually gratifying.
English vocals are at a high standard, though dialogue is rudimentary at best. Scoring — at least in the export version — results in a sometimes odd fusion of Eastern and Western motifs. Original title in South Korea went under the English lingo banner “Wonderful Days.”