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‘The Wings of Honneamise’ (NR)

By Richard Harrington
Washington Post Staff Writer
December 23, 1994

Hiroyuki Yamaga's "The Wings of Honneamise" is a spectacular example of Japanimation, ambitious and daring in its seamless melding of color, depth and detail. It's all the more so when you realize that although the two-hour feature was finished in 1987, it still looks state of the art in a traditionally competitive field.

Yamaga's film (he both wrote and directed it) is a clever variation on "The Right Stuff," set in an alternative present where some elements of technology are futuristic but manned spaceflight is still unrealized. The film's hero is Shiro Lhadatt, a young slacker who has failed to become a navy pilot but somehow ends up a cadet at the Royal Space Force school.

The bumbling Shiro is transformed after meeting Riquinni, a zealous public missionary for a vaguely apocalyptic religion. Shiro is the only one to accept Riquinni's leaflet, and soon after, having found his spiritual center, is inspired to volunteer for what will be the first space mission.

The government's budget ax is looming if the Space Force doesn't get off the ground (actually, the rush to launch is a pretext by the military to go to war with a neighboring country). As Shiro trains, he becomes something of an idol, though endless rounds of hero worship and commercial endorsements leave him weary and cynical.

For relief and solace, he turns to Riquinni, who lives a Spartan life in the country, caring for her little sister. Though clearly confused about the relationship's sexual element, Shiro ultimately is drawn to her spiritual commitment. When he finally makes it into space, he radios back to the Earth-bound such platitudes as "We've found the untouched realm of God" and "Dear God, give us your mercy for we are lost."

Like many animated films from Japan, "The Wings of Honneamise" explores the dichotomy between the inventions of science (good) and their military applications (bad), most evident in Riquinni's plea to God to "forgive us for showing the stars the fires of so many wars."

But Yamaga balances such weighty considerations with the genre's usual blend of energized action, here given even greater impact because of the rich colors, depth of field and intricate detail that reflect the film's budget (at $8 million, the largest ever in Japanimation) and the commitment of its 3,000 animators. It even boasts a score by Ryuichi Sakamoto, an Oscar-winner for "The Last Emperor." At two hours, "The Wings of Honneamise" is a bit windy, but its visual presence may keep you from noticing.

"The Wings of Honneamise" is dubbed in English.

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