The Wings of Honneamise: Royal Space Force
1987, NR, 121 min. Directed by Hirohiko Yamaga. Starring Robert Matthews, Melody Lee, Stevie Beeline, Lee Stone, Arnie Hanks, Alfred Thor.
REVIEWED By Joey O'Bryan, Fri., March 31, 1995
Written and directed by Hirohiko Yamaga, The Wings of Honneamise is far from a typical example of popular Japanese animation. Character-driven and, for the most part, devoid of the fetishistic glamorization of technology, the theatrical release of Yamaga's picture may do much to change the way in which critics look at the genre, as well as open up the distribution doors for more seriously themed anime on these shores. The tale begins unpromisingly as a sort of sci-fi Top Gun (faint praise indeed), as our hero, Shiro Lhadatt, joins up with the rag-tag Royal Space Force following his rejection from the navy. In the imaginary landscape of the film, space travel is not a reality, and the Royal Space Force is viewed as a joke by the rest of the military for trying to make it happen. Despite the numerous deaths surrounding the program and all its test subjects, Shiro surprises everyone by volunteering to be the first man into space, inspired by his blossoming friendship (and perverse attraction) to an inspirational young woman who has handed her life over to religion. It's difficult to convey how this seemingly straightforward story also encompasses so much quirky comedy and genuine suspense, as well as complex (and occasionally unsettling) characterizations, and social, religious, and political insights. Also difficult to explain is how it all was brought so brilliantly to life by more than 3,000 animators employed on this $8 million feature film, the largest budget ever spent on a Japanese animated feature. There are several sequences of startling honesty, which allow the audience to bask in the characters' various faults and hypocrisies, and while there are but a few action sequences, they are spectacularly rendered and made doubly exciting due to the emotional involvement generated by the rest of the film. Another plus is a stirring score composed by Ryuichi Sakamoto, which serves as a perfect accompaniment to the images onscreen, particularly during the picture's spellbinding closing montage. Despite the many pleasures of The Wings of Honneamise, it does manage to fall short in one crucial area that, while unforeseeable by the filmmakers, strikes a solid blow against the effectiveness of the film: The English dubbing, despite being better done than most anime imports, lends an unfortunate sense of heavy-handed camp during some of the picture's most serious and dramatic scenes, spoiling the overall impact of this otherwise fine movie. It would be very interesting to see the film in its original Japanese, but it is still well worth seeing on the big screen in order to better savor the visual splendor of its brilliant animation.