Though I fail Sky Crawlers as a movie, it provides interesting intellectual fodder. Here’s my little article showing the links between T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land and the anime Sky Crawlers. You can find the full text of this fascinating and abstruse poem here. The poem itself starts with a nice mix of Latin and Ancient Greek which translates literally: “For at Cumae, I myself with my own eyes saw the Sybil herself hanging in a jar, and when the boys said to that woman: ‘Sybil, what do you want?’ That woman used to answer, ‘I want to die.'” One might describe the poem as an explanation of why modern man prefers death to life. The same might be said of Sky Crawlers.
The liveliest parts of the movie concern the dogfights. (Major Kusanagi even comments that wars are fought because some people don’t feel alive outside of combat.) Otherwise, the deadness of the characters and scenery strikes the viewer. With the sole exception of Kusanagi’s conversation with Kannami, the dialogue is both awful and dull. One gets the impression that–like everything else–words carry no meaning. War is a game. Sex is a game. You can find an article written by my friend on how The Waste Land shows that the meaninglessness of sex in the second part of the poem.
And one’s own sex is unimportant, which is reminiscent of Eliot’s comment that Tiresias was the central figure of his poem. Sky Crawlers features several androgynous characters. In particular, I was initially horrified when Kannami seems to have had intercourse with another man. (Perhaps I missed them naming her Fuko?) But, fortunately it was a woman after all. Perhaps one might call Fuko the Tiresias of Sky Crawlers. Further blurring the roles of the sexes, being a woman in no way exempts one from combat duty.
If anyone would be the Sybil of Sky Crawlers it would have to be Major Mizuki Kusanagi. (Her first name is the most important link to The Waste Land.) Before the start of the events of the movie, she kills her lover by her own hand. (One gets the impression–or perhaps I nodded off when they explained it. The movie is unfortunately boring–that her lover defected, and she shot him down.) As a Kildren, she never ages–they might be immortal like the Sybil. Knowledge of this causes Kusanagi to dislike her own child at times, who will eventually become older than her. She fills her empty existence by smoking, following her duty, and talking with Kannami, another Kildren.
This brings us to the dilemma of modern man, who cannot perceive the substance of things behind their accidents: “What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow/Out of this stony rubbish? Son of man, /You cannot say, or guess, for you know only/A heap of broken images…/And the dry stone no sound of water” (19-22, 24). The meaning has been taken out of things. One only has dead, dry ideas without the life-giving substance. I have mentioned in a prior post that the pilots are unmilitary. This purposeless war makes no sense, so they lack a sense of camaraderie and purpose which one finds in soldiers at war–at least, if they are striving for victory. In this war, one has no idea why the pilots ever fly except in defending their base.
I mentioned that Mizuki Kusanagi’s first name effectively links Sky Crawlers to The Waste Land. This is because Mizuki might be written with the characters 水希, which mean water and hope respectively. In Kusanagi’s conversation with Kannami after a night bowling, which neither seems to have enjoyed, Kusanagi expresses her frustration that everything seems like a game. She hopes for water, which reminds one of the most memorable lines in The Waste Land:
If there were water
And no rock
If there were rock
And also water
A pool and a rock
If there were the sound of water only
Not the cicada
And dry grass singing
But the sound of water over a rock
* * *
But there is no water (346-355, 358)
Yet, one place where Sky Crawlers differs from The Waste Land lies in that it gives the viewer no hope of escape from the dryness of existence. Like sin, the characters are stuck in a meaningless circle of activity. The way out offered by Eliot is “death by water,” i.e. Baptism. Yet, people are told to fear nothing more than this death: “I do not find/ The Hanged Man. Fear death by water” (54-55). The Hanged Man is obviously Our Crucified Lord, Jesus Christ. He appears again in the poem as a hooded figure. Hooded, because modern man does not know Christ. At the same time, only the living water flowing from His side can slake the thirst of modern man for Truth.