Sky High (2003)
Directed by Ryuhei Kitamura

Artistic Value: * * * ½
Entertainment Value: * * * *

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Kohei Kanzaki (Shosuke Tanihara), a young policeman investigating a serial killer who cuts out and steals the heart of each of his victims, hurries to the church where he is to wed his sweetheart, Mina (Yumiko Shaku), but his happiness does not last long. When she enters the chapel, he sees that her dress is soaked with blood and realizes that, although she is mysteriously able to walk, her heart has been removed from her chest. Overcome with grief, Kanzaki resolves to find and kill Mina's murderer, but his investigation soon reveals that there are strange aspects of the case that point to the presence of something supernatural. Meanwhile, Mina finds herself standing, as a spirit, before the Gate of Resentment, through which those who have died violently must pass if they are to be reborn. The guardian of the gate, Izuko (Eihi Shiina), tells Mina that she has three choices. She can forget her past, go through the gate, enter paradise, and prepare for reincarnation; she can return to the Earth as a ghost, or she can curse the person who killed her, take his life, and be cast into hell as a murderer. Mina is uncertain what she should do, and Izuko allows her to visit the Earth, as an invisible spirit, to see what is happening to those about whom she cares so that she can make up her mind. There, Mina is horrified to discover that Kanzaki is determined to become a murderer himself, by avenging her death, and she resolves to do what she can to help him.

Ryuhei Kitamura's Sky High does have some very entertaining moments and can be fairly suspenseful. I cannot say that I was deeply impressed with the movie, but I did enjoy it.

For the most part, I liked the way that the director told his story. Almost from the start, there are strong supernatural elements in the film, but much of the early narrative is, nonetheless, essentially a crime drama. There are scenes that show Mina's experiences in the world of the dead, but, besides these, the story focuses on Kanzaki's pain and his efforts to find his fiancée's killer. These do, however, gradually reveal something that is entirely otherworldly. Though, as Sky High progresses, these elements eventually come to dominate the tale it tells, the movement from one mystery to the next, each of which is stranger and more ominous than the last, is nicely handled and ensures that the film always keeps the viewer's interest.

What is more, Kitamura does a reasonably good job of building up a sense of tension during certain portions of the movie. For example, when Sayuri, a young, unconfident female reporter, first interviews and later goes out on a date with the killer, the viewer is likely to find himself genuinely worried about the woman's safety. The director is even able to increase that anxiety by depicting how one of her colleagues, her photographer, Kishi (Hiromasa Taguchi), while showing pictures to Kanzaki at the same time she is out with the villain, realizes who his friend is with but is having a hard time convincing the policeman that the girl is in danger. Admittedly, Kitamura does not sustain this tension throughout the movie, but he does successfully arouse such feelings on several occasions.

Happily, this is not the only emotion elicited by Sky High. The movie's action sequences, though not numerous, and largely confined to its final act, are very well realized and are genuinely exciting. All of the performers acquit themselves well in these scenes, giving them a definite grace and some measure of ferocity. They are not the best such sequences I have ever encountered , but they are stylishly done, colorful, and captivating. By themselves, they make Sky High worth seeing.

I should also say that most of the actors are effective in their roles. Yumiko Shaku conveys her character's frustration at being able to watch events happening to those she loves but being unable to do much to help them. Shosuke Tanihara is just as good as Kanzaki and brings out the man's pain and anger throughout the film. Even some of the supporting players are memorable. The woman who plays the young reporter mentioned above is wonderfully likeable in the role, making her character seem vulnerable, flawed, hopeful, and charming. The actress who plays the killer's supernatural assistant might not have as complex a part, but she is, nonetheless, simultaneously sexy, cold, dangerous, and captivating. (Sadly, I do not know the names of either of these performers.) Perhaps the only person who diminishes the quality of the movie is Hiromasa Taguchi. He occasionally hams it up while playing Kishi, Sayuri's goofy photographer. Unfortunately, instead of providing any comic relief, he just makes himself annoying.

Actually, the film does have a few cheesy elements. There are times when the director includes some silly details (like Kishi's mysterious photographs that reveal paranormal happenings), some overwrought attempts to move the viewer (like when he presents flashbacks of Kanzaki and Mina as a romantic couple), several extremely unlikely coincidences (like Kanzaki's assistant knowing of a photograph that reveals something supernatural which just happens to have been taken by the man, Kishi, who can identify the killer's accomplice), and even a few painful clichés (like when Kanzaki and his assistant suddenly see a painfully obvious pattern on a map). Some of these details are tiresome; some are cloying, and all are intrusive, schlocky, and tend to diminish the movie's emotional impact.

Even though I was obviously not awed by Sky High, I did enjoy the film. It is sometimes suspenseful, sometimes affecting, sometimes exciting, and always engaging.

Review by Keith Allen

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