Sky High
Media Blasters // R // $29.95 // March 29, 2005
Review by Carl Davis | posted April 11, 2005
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It seems that among film-geek circles, Ryuhei Kitamura's name became synonymous with cool the minute his over-the-top yakuza zombie pic Versus dropped. Word spread like wildfire about the second coming of Sam Raimi, and how Kitamura was going to revolutionize the action genre. While I wasn't a big fan of the film upon first seeing it, probably due to the screwy VHS copy I had back in '01, I have since warmed to the film and its creator, and now look forward to anything and everything with the Kitamura seal of approval. It's been 5 years since Versus debuted in Japan and while the revolution hasn't happened yet, Kitamura has a growing list of notable films on his track record and appears to actually be improving as a film maker.

I'm happy to say that the latest Kitamura love-fest to hit these shores, Sky High is just as engaging and entertaining as his other works, including the phenomenal Azumi. Like Azumi, Sky High follows a female protagonist, Mina who on her wedding day has her heart ripped out by a mysterious serial killer. It just so happens that Mina was about to marry Kanzaki, the lead detective on the killers case. What follows is the parallel tale of Kanzaki's quest for revenge on the person who killed his girlfriend, and Mina's dilemma in the afterlife of ascending to paradise to be reborn, haunting the world in a limbo state for eternity or cursing the person that murdered her and going to hell. Based on Tsutomu (Alive) Takahashi's popular manga, Sky High presents a world to us where death is just another beginning.

While not as out and out audacious as some of his other films, Kitamura pulls the reins in a bit to stay in line with the manga. Once Mina arrives at the Gate of Rage, which all murder and "accidental" death victims arrive at, she is given 12 days to decide her eternal fate. In that time she follows Kanzaki as he sets out on his path of vengeance. She cannot interact with him directly, but throughout the course of the film finds mediums that allow her limited contact with him, whether he believes them or not. At times she takes part in the investigation on her own, since in her spirit form she an access many places that he cannot. When she begins to encounter the killers other victims on the spiritual plane, things really begin to heat up as the killer and his motives are revealed.

While some may be disappointed that the amount of action present is nowhere near that of previous Kitamura films like Versus or Azumi, there are still many outstanding moments in this film. The killer himself will be familiar to many Kitamura fans, and everything the guy does is just cool. With the action taking place on both the terrestrial and astral planes, as well as the emphasis on the main character's overall strengths (both Mina and Kanzaki grow and change as characters which I think might be a first for a Kitamura film), this may be one of his most balanced films to date. While much of what I've just said is also true of Azumi, Mina and Kanzaki are not highly trained assassins, and instead are a recently deceased spirit and a grief-stricken detective, not exactly a recipe for a high octane adventure pic, but Kitamura pulls it off.

Sadly, even though Media Blasters went above and beyond the call of duty by including both the Original Theatrical Version of Sky High and the Director's Extended Cut, they are on separate discs, and it is not clear from the packaging that the Director's Cut is included with the Extra Features Disc. After watching the Original Theatrical Version in its entirety and then putting in the Extra Features Disc, I was shocked to see the Director's Cut there. After watching both versions I can say that there is little difference between the two, with just some extended scenes padding out the 132 minutes of the Director's Cut. I'm sure that I am not the only one that this is going to happen to, so if you're looking for the Director's Cut, head straight for the second disc.

The DVD:

Picture: The film is presented in a 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer which looks amazing, standing up well to Kitamura's visionary bombast.

Audio: The Japanese Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Track sounds great, but make sure you set it before playing the film or else it defaults to the English dub which I didn't even bother listening to.

Extras: There is an entire second disc of Extra Features, including the Director's Extended Cut, but also featuring a "Making of…" featurette, TV Spots, Stills Gallery, Theatrical Trailer and trailers for additional Media Blasters/Tokyo Shock Releases. On the first disc along with the Original Theatrical Version is a commentary track by Kitamura and the cast.

Conclusion: As evidenced by every movie after Versus, Kitamura is getting better and better as a filmmaker while still staying true to his own unique style. Much like American director's Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez, Kitamura loves going back to the well and re-using the same actors, characters and themes throughout all of his movies, which isn't a bad thing as many critics would have you believe. Instead it creates a unique world in which all of his films can co-exist peacefully, and you wouldn't be surprised if someone from Versus turned up in Alive or Aragami and with Versus 2 on the horizon, I'm thankful that I'm not the only one who sees Kitamura as an exciting and talented filmmaker. After all, Toho wouldn't give their 50th Anniversary Gojira film to just anyone. Now if I could get my hands on a Godzilla: Final Wars DVD, all would be right with the world.

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