On an alternative Earth, a Kingdom tries to launch the planet's first manned spacecraft. This ten year old project not only faces funding and technical problem, but also is subject to political conspiracy and the neighboring Republic's aggression. It's all up to Shilo, the first spaceman to be, his friends and their faith to make the space program a success.
Directed by: Hiroyuki Yamaga
. Starring: Leo Morimoto
, David Thomas
, Mitsuki Yayoi
, Patricia Ja Lee
, Steve Bulen
, Kazuyuki Sogabe
, Bryan Cranston
, Chikao Ohtsuka
, Michael Forest
, Yoshito Yasuhara
, Dan Woren
, Tom Konkle
, Shôzô Iizuka
. Music by: Ryuichi Sakamoto
At the time of its release, Gainax's debut feature WINGS OF HONNEAMISE was the most expensive animated feature from Japan, with a budget of eight million yen (today that might not seem like such a big deal, but this is 1987 we are talking about). Yet while the movie earned critical raves it was a stunning commercial disaster. It was not until approximately seven years later that WINGS OF HONNEAMISE finally turned a profit. Today it is hailed among Anime fans as one of the all-time masterpieces of the genre.
Scripted and directed by 23-year-old Hiroyuki Yamaga, WINGS OF HONNEAMISE, is set in a bizarre Japanese/American hybrid world with futuristic technology but where the concept of space travel seems laughable. The protagonist is Shirotsugh Lhadatt, an unmotivated cadet of the often-ridiculed (and constantly threatened) Royal Space Force. When he starts a relationship with a religious woman named Riquinni, Shiro becomes inspired, and, before long, volunteers to be the first man into space.
It's obvious that a lot of effort went into the animation of this movie, and the results show. For a 1987 production, WINGS OF HONNEAMISE showcases some intricately detailed backgrounds that fully realize the strange world of our protagonists. The animation itself, though not as smooth as, say, a traditional Disney cartoon or AKIRA, neither as beautiful as a Studio Ghibli film is still quite impressive. And even though the characters don't have the huge eyes or round faces of most Anime leads, they're visibly expressive. In addition to which, the camera work is amazing; watching this movie one has the feeling that they are witnessing a live-action drama rather than a cartoon.
That said, WINGS OF HONNEAMISE's entertainment value might not be for everyone. Fans weaned on fast-paced Anime productions may be put off by HONNEAMISE's languid pace. There are only two major action set pieces in the movie, and they happen about three-quarters of the way through and near the end, respectively. But mostly the movie concentrates on character development and tackles political issues. While this gives HONNEAMISE a depth of complexity in its plot, there are times when the structure of the story feels unfocused. A subplot involving a war with a rival country for the rocket, in particular, seems superfluous.
Then there's the confused relationship between Shiro and Riquinni. Mostly it develops well through the movie (with occasional chuckles coming from Shiro's lack of understanding of whether his interactions with Riquinni are platonic or romantic); but why did the script have to include a disturbing rape attempt scene? Not only does it provide discomfort to the audience, this sequence feels strangely out of place and inconsistent with both the plot and the characterizations of both Shiro and Riquinni. It makes even less sense in the following scene when Shiro, attempting to apologize, is instead told by Riquinni to forgive *her* for smashing a jar on his head! That this nasty sequence doesn't go anywhere afterwards is also abrupt in terms of development. Instead of providing an interesting turning point in the protagonists' relationship, this scene only comes across as pointless as well as violent.
One other scene that feels disjointed from the rest of the movie takes place toward the end, where, after Shiro is finally in space, we are suddenly treated to what appears to be a gradual progression of humanity. Taken on its own, this approximately four minute long sequence showcases some imaginative animation styles; this is the most artfully done scene in the movie, rendered in charcoal-like colors and set to a trippy yet surreal score (courtesy of Oscar-winner Ryuichi Sakamoto). On the flip side, this sequence interrupts (and delays) the denouement of the film, and is awkwardly transitioned into.
In fact the whole strangeness of WINGS OF HONNEAMISE might be too off-putting to non-Anime fans; for an exercise in creativity and imagination, this movie excels. But the confused plot twists in this otherwise ambitious and brilliant tale may be too problematic to recommend it to viewers expecting a well-structured story. It also clocks in at two hours, and some of that running time is wasted in sequences where nothing much happens.
It should be noted, too, that this is not a movie for young children. In addition to that aforementioned rape attempt scene, there is a bloody battle scene between our hero and an enemy spy, and a climax that involves an attack on ground and air (while the Royal Space Force struggles to launch Shiro into space). While these sequences have a lot more energy than the low-key tone of the picture, both are considerably violent. To be fair, though, they're also not as gruesome or sickening as in other Anime features.
The movie is still worth watching, however, because of the detailed animation and ambitious concept. Not many animated features in America have attempted such a story like this, and so for that, WINGS OF HONNEAMISE does stand out. Yet the movie probably plays better to Anime fans than it may to non-fans.
Review by Caspar Ryan (firstname.lastname@example.org) [IMDB 29 August 1999] from the Internet Movie Database.