Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Escaping the Gravity of Nothingness

The callous young pilots at the beginning of The Wings of Honneamise (1987) reminded me of the ones from Only Angels Have Wings. Like that Howard Hawks film, Honneamise opens with one of the pilots having been killed and his fellows not seeming overly concerned about it, continuing their relaxed, hard drinking perpetual party in off hours, the emotional capacity of these young men seemingly numbed totally.

The pilots in Honneamise are navy volunteers for an experimental space programme, and as such, they're treated with ridicule by regular members of the navy. The Wings of Honneamise is a very simple hearted story about the value of men risking their lives for exploration instead of war.

Directed by Hiroyuki Yamaga, Honneamise shares many qualities with his television series Magical Shopping Arcade Abenobashi. Both are stories that lack momentum, their greatest virtues being world building and attention to detail. Honneamise takes place in an alternate reality, and much of the incidental imagery features astonishingly intricate detail.

The animation cuts absolutely no corners, everyone in crowd shots being animated, and characters are constantly given evocative bits of business, as in one scene where the lead, Shirotsugh, is lying on his back on a catwalk eating bread rolls. When he sits up suddenly, he knocks over his thermos, spilling water onto a startled worker below.

Every little hint of character and aspects of this alternate reality emphasise the complex beauty of humanity, the aesthetic itself arguing against a more warlike ideology.

Shirotsugh is the test pilot chosen for the space programme's final phase of actually sending a man into space. One of the callous young officers at the beginning, he wanders the red light district after the death of his comrade and is surprised to see a woman handing out religious flyers. He befriends her, at first apparently just wanting to get into her pants, but her influence seems to wake his heart up a bit. I make it sound a lot more simplistic and cloying than it is--a lot of it is very subtle and neither Shurotsugh or Riquinni, the young woman, seem to be morally superior to the other. There's a hint of her own dysfunction in her inability to consummate an apparently mutual sexual attraction. In the most challenging scene of the film, Shirotsugh, in some kind of sleepy horny state, starts to take her by force before she hits him and he stops. The next day, she apologises for hitting him, making no mention of his own actions, apparently her own self-hatred and difficulty confronting sexual issues not allowing her to see what was done as something wrong done to her while Shirotsugh, of course, seems to hate himself for what he did. He muses about the contrast between what he knows about himself and the propaganda the government puts out about him that paints him as a heroic pioneer.

Mostly, though, the story is more simplistic and not quite as challenging as later Gainax projects like Neon Genesis Evangelion. And it's not as emotionally involving as Gunbuster, which was released in 1988, the following year, though the animators' distinctive intricately detailed machinery is on display in both films.

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