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Sky High
Sky High
Actors: Takao ‘sawa, Yumiko Shaku, Shosuke Tanihara
Director: RyŻhei Kitamura
Genres: Action & Adventure, Indie & Art House, Horror
R     2005     2hr 2min

Sky High, based on the manga by Tsutomu Takahashi (Alive), follows detective Kanzaki Kohei?s vengeful search for the killer who stole his wife?s heartafter cutting it out on their wedding night. The deceased Mina finds her...  more »

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Movie Details

Actors: Takao ‘sawa, Yumiko Shaku, Shosuke Tanihara
Director: RyŻhei Kitamura
Genres: Action & Adventure, Indie & Art House, Horror
Sub-Genres: Action & Adventure, Indie & Art House, Horror
Studio: Tokyo Shock
Format: DVD - Color,Full Screen - Dubbed,Subtitled
DVD Release Date: 03/29/2005
Release Year: 2005
Run Time: 2hr 2min
Screens: Color,Full Screen
Number of Discs: 2
SwapaDVD Credits: 2
Total Copies: 1
Members Wishing: 0
MPAA Rating: R (Restricted)
Languages: Japanese, English
Subtitles: English
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Movie Reviews

The Fault Lies in the Acting
Jordana Slayer | NY | 09/07/2005
(2 out of 5 stars)

"I found this movie on a shelf in Blockbuster, and being a fan of Sci-fi movies, as well as good Japanese imports, I rented the flick because the premise sounded promising: a girl is murdered and has to choose between going to Heaven, becoming a ghost, or cursing one person on Earth to death, and then going to Hell herself. Not a bad idea for a story at all. And it really isn't what's wrong with this movie. In fact, I loved the cleverness and originality of the story: the options of the murdered, the intriguing guardian of the gate of rage, an evil CEO set about completing a ritual to bring about an evil demon, all in order to resurrect his dead wife. The characters were interesting, and the villains had the potential for sympathy, something that is rare in sci-fi type movies. This has all the makings for a great movie.

And its downfall was the...actual movie. I watched the subtitled version, and while the acting from the main character, her fiancé, and the guardian Izuko was tolerable, the horribly over-acted villainy of the evil CEO and his lovely minion ruined it for me. Ruined! These were villains ripe with potential for sympathy--their actions, terrible as they were, were motivated by love, and thus understandable, if not justifiable. But they were played with such cartoon maliciousness, complete with evil laughs and generic one-liners, that the effectiveness of the characters was nullified. The action scenes also left a LOT to be desired. They were all fought in real-time, no stylish camera tricks here, and were very OBVIOUSLY choreographed. The actors moved slowly and with deliberate care, like amateur dancers trying to remember the steps to the tango. The action scenes were horribly contrived and staged so that you could just tell they were going for cool moves and one-shot "poses", and didn't care how the rest of the fight looked, as long as they got those cool moments, say where two of the sword fighting women were moving in unison, and locked blades in mirroring poses. The second-to-last fight scene between the evil minion and the priestess was by far the most natural looking one, but even that fell far short of "par" for most action movies.

This movie was very aesthetically beautiful, almost amusingly so (you apparently won't find anything but stunningly beautiful 20-something women in Tokyo. Women over the age of thirty are apparently sent to different parts of the country ;) ), but the driving force of the movie--it's action scenes and cast--sadly fall short. I have since read the two manga series this movie is based on, and with the material at hand, I think they could have done a lot better. This was a disappointing film that I really wouldn't recommend."
Underwhelming, but different
trashcanman | Hanford, CA United States | 09/16/2007
(3 out of 5 stars)

"It's no secret that I'm a huge admirer of Japanese director Ryuhei Kitamura, the Asian equivalent of our Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez. The man specializes in stylish, offbeat fantasy films that defy convention (American convention, anyways) while paying homage to the action films he idolizes. I would highly recommend each and every one of his films to anyone looking for a breath of fresh air. That said, this is my least favorite of his films. "Sky High" is filled with interesting ideas, beautiful actresses, supernaturally-powered swordfights, and all of the other things he usually excels at. The problem is, this time he just didn't bring his "A" game.

The story begins with a woman, Mina, murdered on her wedding day and sent stumbling down the aisle sans a heart. She wakes up at The Gate of Rage, where the spirits of the slain are given three choices by the Guardian of the Gate: to accept death and enter paradise to be reborn later, haunt the human world for eternity, or curse a living person to death and enter Hell. Each spirit is given 12 days to ponder their choice, during which they can enter and observe the world of the living or relive their past. Mina does a little of both, in order to try to stop her fiance from killing himself or another -which would condemn him to Hell- and also viewing her own death. It turns out she was the victim of a serial killer and his henchwoman (who possesses a sword inscribed with a spell that can slay spirits) who are out stealing women's hearts for use in a demonic ritual. Mina's fiance, a detective investigating her death, comes into contact with a photographer whose pictures seem to predict the subject's impending death a'la "The Omen" (he even acknowledges this bit of stolen plot device). A picture of his charming coworker reveals a ghastly hand grabbing at her heart, and the race to save her and find the killers is on. Later, a psychic spiritualist who seems to have all of the answers joins the fray, completing the main cast.

After such a promising setup, the film loses focus. It never really fleshes out any one aspect, leaving the ideas and themes presented largely unfulfilled. Characters are introduced and expelled from the story with little or no development and the film just kind of meanders for a while. Then comes the action. If there is one thing Kitamura always gets right it's the action; or so I thought. While the swordfights certainly have their moments, they are very obviously choreographed and the CG sparks look pretty cheesy. The major characters are not a particularly likeable or memorable bunch as we never really get to know much about them. Mina, in particular, tends to stand around and gape at the events unfolding in front of her. Not a good quality in a heroine. The characters all seem to be there just to drive the plot forward and not much more.

I may be being a little harsh on this film; it is an entertaining little flick. I enjoyed the Buddhist principles of life and death simply being a force of nature and subject to laws that make it more akin to physics than to the idea of judgement by a deity. It's just too bad that this aspect wasn't more fully fleshed out. The battle between the spiritualist and the henchwoman has some pretty cool moments and the main villain delivers a few fantastic lines to liven up the proceedings, but the movie feels so rushed, like it could have used a few more months of polish and rehearsals. If you've seen Azumi you know what Ryuhei Kitamura is capable of doing with his talent and I, for one, want to see his films continue to improve. He can do great things on a shoestring budget, but his last two films have just been sloppy. I can overlook sloppiness in a giant monster flick like Godzilla - Final Wars (which preceded this one), but a film like "Sky High" needs that spit shine to really succeed.

Overall, this is an interesting and highly ambitious film, one that should appeal to a lot of people fed up with Hollywood's same-ol'-same-ol', but it just doesn't live up to the cult classics that preceded it in this director's filmography. Check it out if the concept appeals to you or if you're looking for something a little different, but know that it doesn't quite get to where it's trying to go.

Athena Spencer | California | 03/23/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)

"This movie is incredible, especially if you're fed up with American too much special effects and too little acting. Special effects are used sparingly, and the acting is beautiful--poetry in motion.

Shaku-san is gorgeous and talented, perfect for this role. She's very convincing. But, she's not alone. Her co-stars are just as good, and overall, able to draw the viewer into the world.

The story is a well-known one, the story of the Urami no Mon (or "The Gate of Rage/Vengence"), but this is an excellent telling on a personal level--beyond the legend. It's based off a manga, so it has well-developed characters and themes.

The actual movie has all the important elements for success: action (the sword scenes are lovely and intense, but aren't overdone), revenge (always a good theme for a plot line), and love (would it be anime without it?). The ending is one of the most touching I have ever seen, and Shaku-san's line "oiki nasai" is wonderful.

Definitely one of my top all-time favorite movies."
The Best Romance/Action Film On the Face of the Planet
Anticlimacus | 05/07/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Orthodox opinion holds that most (if not all) great movies are restricted to the Drama or Romance genres. During my exploration of East Asian cinema, I have discovered a massive amount of contradictory evidence to this commonly-held assertion: A Tale of Two Sisters (2003, Korean Horror) and Cure (1997, Japanese Thriller) being the two most obvious examples, in addition to So Close (2002, Chinese Action), Azumi (2003, Japanese Action), and Fist of Legend (1997, Chinese Action). This brief list is a testimony that cinematic greatness is achieved in different ways, whether it be strong dramatic elements, horrific philosophical expositions, masterful storytelling, or action choreography. The bottom line is the one thing they all have in common: REMARKABLE ENTERTAINMENT VALUE. Sky High represents another title that achieves greatness like the aforementioned films achieve greatness, albeit in its own unique way.

Ryuhei Kitamura has had his disappointing films (Alive, Godzilla: Final Wars), but when he is "on his game" there is perhaps no one who delivers such a perfect combination of stylish camera-work and engaging sound. Sky High is the crème de la crème of cinematic flair. The wedding ceremony is a classic showcase that every film student should study with earnestness. Even the simplest of events - i.e., a girl crawling to her work desk after arriving late - are handled with such directorial precision that an astute viewer is immediately grabbed by the events occurring on screen. Virtually every action scene is preceded by ultra-cool character mannerisms supplemented with an excellent score. Sky High is a cornucopia of amazing images and sounds that puts most every other film to shame. This one is special for that contribution alone.

The storyline is based upon a set of supernatural rules. Major decisions by the characters must first consider the consequences inherent in their respective afterlives. Killing is not simply an act to end life, but instead is used to serve a specific eternal purpose. Thus, the ones who kill in this film also bear a tragic spiritual fate that others do not possess. The originality of Sky High is obvious in that it represents the act of killing as a form of self-sacrifice for the betterment of someone else. I can't think of another film that does this. It's a very unique and breathtaking play on an old concept.

Many movies have tried to bridge action and romance genres, but few have succeeded. Frequently, the action is bland and emotionless while the romance is undeveloped, but perhaps the most common (and ridiculous) flaw is that character action almost always contradicts the alleged romance of the lead characters. In Shinobi (2005) the wife promptly (and without hesitation) orders an ambush on her husband, which provides an excuse to start fighting, but at the same time nullifies any possible love that the viewer was supposed to believe existed. In The Bride With White Hair (1993) the man totally discounts the word of his alleged lover regarding a murder, which provides an excuse to start the final action scene, but at the same time invalidates their entire relationship. In other words, blending action and romance is just as difficult as creating an effective drama, and most attempts miss the mark quite badly.

Sky High, on the other hand, is the perfect example of internally consistent character action that maximizes the believability of the primary love relationship. Character action is not introduced merely to start fights, but instead represents a logical decision with reference to a specific lover. The primary love relationship is developed throughout the entirety of the film and culminates in the main character's change of philosophy, of which his love for his deceased wife serves as the primary catalyst. In like manner, the primary antagonist's motivations for evil is manfested from his deep love of his comatose wife. Even the deadly assassin shows her caring for the lead antagonist in her choosing to kill for him, thus sacrificing her immortal soul for his dream of being reunited with his lost love. So here we have a film that succeeds in introducing 3 separate love relationships that are consistent with character action, while most other action/romance movies fail to produce 1. Amazing!

Some have complained about the basic fight choreography. It is not kinetic, fast, or complex like Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon (2000). Kitamura chose to ground most of the action with realistic sword maneuvers, similar to The Hidden Blade (2004), while adding a few supernatural elements along the way. Remarkably, the action is still very entertaining because of the character development behind it. The finale is exciting not because of how the swords are swung, but because a fairly normal girl has been entrusted to withstand the attacks of the lead antagonist while a demon is on the verge of escape and her husband may (or may not) be able to assist her in time. The preceding fight inside the temple is also engaging because the deadly assassin (who has easily carved her way thru just about everyone) has finally met her match. In this sense, Sky High is a different sort of action film that relies on situational excitement over choreographical complexity, and it works very well.

I'm sure that I'll be criticized for giving an action/romance like Sky High a rating of 10 out of 10, but in all honestly - I don't care. Sky High is simply the best action/romance film on the face of the planet. I dare someone to cite another similar film with an equal mastery of visual/audio technical skills, an equally original take on killing, similarly effective situational fighting, and character action that is perfectly consistent with the romantic elements.

Good luck to you on that challenge."