you just hate it when you're about to get married and a serial killer and his
evil assistant crashes the party and literally rips out your heart? That's what
happens to our heroine Mina (Yukimo Shaku, "Princess
Blade"). After her murder, Mina travels to the Gate of Rage (or Gate of
Hatred, depending on your Japanese), where the current Gatekeeper Izuko (Eihi
a sword-wielding babe in black, informs Mina that she has three options: 1)
Accept her death and go to Paradise; 2) Haunt the world of the living as a
ghost; or 3) Curse her killer, but go to Hell afterwards.
Obviously door number one is be the prime choice, and door
number two is ridiculous. Prize number three, on the other hand, means getting
back at your killer, but going to Hell afterwards. Definitely a prize with a lot
of drawbacks. Unfortunately for Mina, Paradise is elusive when she discovers
that her enraged fiancé Kanzaki (Shoshuke Tanihara), a cop, has gone on the
vengeance trail, determined to murder the bastard responsible for her death. And
according to Izuko, anyone who takes a life, even justified, goes to Hell.
As it turns out, the serial killer is handsome billionaire
playboy Kudo (Takao Osawa, "Aragami"),
and the hot brunette aiding his crime spree is his secretary. Not that this last
plot point is a surprise, because it's revealed early in the film. Kudo has been
killing women because he's pining for his beloved wife, whose body is presently
frozen and whose spirit is trapped between life and death. Seeking to bring
about a supernatural cataclysm for nefarious purposes, Kudo needs only two more
heart to finish a sacrifice. And they're not just any hearts, either; they have
to be the hearts of re-incarnated Gatekeepers, just like Mina.
High" the movie is a prequel to the Japanese TV show of the same name
starring Shaku as the Gatekeeper. Although the 2-hour film was designed to fill
in Mina's origins, she's little more than a background player until towards the
end. Shosuke Tanihara's Kanzaki, as well, basically spends most of the movie
looking doubtful at the supernatural explanations and screaming in righteous
indignation. The problem is an unfocused script that tries to cram in too many
characters. Most of the characters exist only to provide important plot points
at important junctures in the film, and once they've done what they were created
to do, they end up just loitering in the background.
Although the film credits two directors, Ryuhei Kitamura
horror filmmaker Norio Tsuruta ("Kakashi"),
Kitamura's style seems to dominate, from the ever-present ethereal glow that
gives the movie a supernatural vibe to the techno beats in the soundtrack. And
what's a Kitamura movie without swordplay. By now Kitamura could work stylized
sword fighting into a movie about old people at a retirement home. "Sky
High", although sometimes feeling more like a cop thriller, is filled with
the type of wild action one is used to in a Kitamura film.
movie also offers up some fine casting choices when it comes to its kick-butt
female characters. The men in the audience will be glad to know that "Sky
High" features an impressive list of beautiful women engaging in the
movie's many action sequences. Of note is the actress playing Rei, Kudo's
supposed "secretary", who is more at home slicing victims with a sword
than she is typing memos. Decked out in tight black leather and stiletto heels,
Rei is quite the sight, played with stone-cold seriousness and ultra cool
efficiency. Hubba hubba indeed.
Fans of Kitamura's "Versus" will certainly favor
"Sky High" over "Azumi" or any of the films he's done since
the zombie opus. But although Kitamura seems to be returning to his "style
for style's sake" roots, the bad habits are still present. The movie is
longer than it should be, padded out with ridiculously long fights interspersed
with long inconsequential talky moments. The script is also prone to heavy plot
contrivances, such as a coroner who knows a photographer who happens to snap a
photo of Rei who Kanzaki is looking for; the photographer also happens to know a
female shaman who knows everything about Rei and Kudo's master plan. Contrived?
But for all the movie's narrative shortcomings, Kitamura
more than makes up for them with style. Lots and lots of style. "Sky
High" seems to combine the visual content of "Alive"
(lots and lots of glowing backdrops) with the swordplay of "Azumi"
(lots and lots of female-centric swordplay). It's a visually appealing film, if
ultimately somewhat empty. Still, "Sky High" is the closest thing to
"Versus" Kitamura has done in some time. For sheer, superficial
entertainment value, it's a winner.