Moon Sang Kim
Running Time: 86 minutes
US Certificate: Unrated UK Certificate: 15
Country: Korea (South)
The year is 2142. Global warming and environmental degradation have shrouded the world in a permanent toxic rain. The power élites enjoy a sheltered life of luxury in Ecoban, “the first living city”, and exploit the so-called ‘diggers’ – those who have managed to survive in the Wasteland outside – to mine the carbon required to fuel Ecoban’s genetically engineered Delos Core. Yet as the excluded ‘diggers’ begin an insurgence against their oppressive treatment, and supplies to the fortress city dwindle, an exile from Ecoban named Shua joins forces with the renegade Dr Noah, who long ago had designed Ecoban, in an attempt to shut down the Delos Core and achieve “energy release”, bringing blue skies once again to the earth. Having only just discovered that her childhood friend Shua is still alive, Ecoban guard Jay must decide where her allegiances lie in the apocalyptic confrontation which follows.
Katsuhiro Otomo’s ‘Akira’ (1988), a dystopian epic fuelled by nuclear-age anxiety, opened the world’s eyes to the new possibilities of feature-length manga, putting Japanese animé firmly on the map – and the adolescent wish-fulfilment of its plotting was excused by its (then) freshness and by the absolutely mind-blowing quality and scale of its visual imagery. Put simply, nothing quite like it had ever been seen before – but there has ever since been a flood of substandard imitators. Moon Sang Kim and Sunmin Park’s ‘Sky Blue’ (or ‘Wonderful Days’, as it was called in its native South Korea) represents the Peninsula’s first attempt at a state-of-the-art, ‘Akira’-like animated feature – and its scenes of youngsters speeding on futuristic motorbikes make the debt to Otomo’s earlier classic as clear as, er, daylight.
From a purely technical perspective, ‘Sky Blue’ is a masterpiece, combining traditional 2D animation with photorealistic 3D CGI backgrounds and live-action miniatures to create a sumptuous soup of ocular pleasures. Yet unfortunately the film’s story, characters and dialogue are as flatly colourless as the clouds encircling Ecoban. Distinguishable only by name, Shua, Jay and the others are bland cyphers whose fates never arouse much interest. The plot that they carry goes some way to allegorise contemporary concerns about both damage to the environment and the first world’s greedy exploitation of the third – but it is all too puerile to take in any way seriously, with an underlying ‘science’ and psychology that makes even The Day After Tomorrow look genuinely plausible by comparison.
Ultimately the great talent behind ‘Sky Blue’ has been overshadowed by adherence to the wrong model – for while ‘Akira’ was in its time a pioneering landmark, since then the cutting edge of animation has moved on. ‘Sky Blue’ certainly manages to achieve the kaleidoscopic beauty of Hayao Miyazaki’s more recent works (Spirited Away, ‘Howl’s Moving Castle’, etc.) – but alas Studio Ghibli has left less of a mark on the film’s deplorable, cliché-riddled script, and such lack of imagination strips the science fiction of any memorable impact. In short, it is a film in desperate need of some blue sky thinking.
It's Got: Breathtaking animation.
It Needs: A decent plot, engaging characters, original dialogue, and some imagination to bring life to the beautiful images.
Dazzling 2D animation and 3D backgrounds – but the plot and characters are strictly one-dimensional.