Wonderful Days (Sky Blue)
Director: Moon-saeng Kim.
Voiced By: Ji Hoon Choi, Yeong Seon Eun, In Seong O, Kim Jong-kook. Catherine Cavadini, Marc Worden, Kirk Thornton, David Naughton.
I first have to publicly apologise to the makers of this film for quickly assuming this was Japanese Anime. Although being a fan of eastern cinema, especially manga and anime from a young age I was still naive enough to not notice the difference between Korean and Japanese. This was the first South Korean film I had even had the pleasure of watching and how narrow minded was I to assume all anime from the orient would automatically be Japanese. Though not based on any comic book or manga to my knowledge, this is a gorgeous animated film written and directed by Kim Moon-saeng with an uncredited Park Jun-Yong and was initially released back in 2003. It done the film festival circuit that year and received high praise across the board. However, I don’t feel it received, or still receives for that matter the recognition it so deserves. Quoting Empire magazine, this is “Akira for the 21st Century” and was the most expensive film to come out of South Korea. Little else is known of Director Kim with this not only being their directorial debut, but their only feature length picture.
I watched this randomly years ago and I can’t remember how or why; if it was on my Lovefilm watchlist or I just caught it on national television; I don’t know. But I’m so glad I did as I was instantly attracted and fell in love with this film from the opening. The Hangul transliteration of it’s original title comes out as Wonderful Days, but the US and UK release was retitled Sky Blue, and there’s good reason as to why.
It’s set in the post-apocalyptic year of 2142 where the world, as predicted, is on the very brink of collapse with the few remnants of humankind seeking refuge at The Ecoban; a technological advance, living city that feeds off mined carbonite in order to function. Situated in the midst of a Wasteland that’s similar to George Miller’s Mad Max, where surviving scavengers, the diggers, people who are not permitted to live in the city, mine the carbonite fields for work; thus forming a symbiotic relationship and a definite class driven society. The Ecoban citizens rely on the diggers, and the diggers rely on the work, but rebel tensions are on the rise as mining quotas are not achieved and The Ecoban's echelon becomes more demanding and tyrannical each day.
It’s quite a bleak and desolate vision of humanity’s future. People haven’t seen the sun or understand the meaning of sky blue, hence the alternative title; for a hundred years and it constantly rains, as the Ecoban pollutes the air, poisoning the earth. It’s hard for anyone to imagine that billions of people once inhabited the Earth. But as the city prepares for it’s centennial celebrations, an intruder commits a data breach, hacking into the operating system to steal some vital information, that in theory, could shut down the Ecoban, releasing it’s energy into the outside world and potentially reversing climate change.
But a chance encounter between our rebel hacker, Shua (pronounced Sure) and Jay, an Ecoban security officer, rekindles a long lost friendship and reveals an unfortunate history of the key characters involved. In walks Cade, Jay’s boyfriend and superior commander, completing the mysterious love triangle. Everything all comes to a climatic end as Shua attempts to complete his mission, Jay, discovering a terrible truth that makes her question her loyalty; and a band of nomadic misfits decides to aid Shua in his cause.
The story is like a Mad Max film but set partly in Blade Runner territory, and it’s certainly not for children due to the level violence and blood. There’s no shortage of action which really does show off the quality of the animation that's seldom seen before. The Shakespearean like climax is pure poetic justice that is one astonishing and emotional sequence that’s both enchanting and powerful, all with the help of Won Il’s beautiful and graceful score.
Won Il’s score is one my personal favourites with the his soft melodic themes that build into something wonderful and enlightening. There’s the engaging “Mar’s Theme” that grows with choir and drums and completely suits the essence of the moment. But it’s the Aria that’s played during the climatic scene that’s so captivatingly powerful. I think I even held my breathe as I watched the finale unfold with the incredible operatics. I had sought after this soundtrack for years since, never able to get it imported and even asked my cousin to find me a copy whilst they were travelling around Korea. But thankfully it’s now available on Spotify! But I discovered another part of the soundtrack I’ve not heard before and can only assume the k-pop soundtrack accompanies the original Korean version of the film. Having watched the UK/US version, I don’t think I would like the alternative soundtrack.
The animation and film as a whole is technically stunning with an amazing level of detail; though, noticeably the characters are far simpler in design and appear quite flat compared to the glorious environment and backdrops. But I believe this contrast actually compliments the film more. CGI is obviously used to great effect and it’s interesting to know that actual miniatures were built for the filming process and were captured using advance digital cameras that were developed by Sony and Lucasfilm.The sense of scope and perspective is still some of the best digital art I’ve ever seen. Right from the very opening of the road leading to the Ecoban, the shootouts, the flying chase and theres even parts that actually look like real footage, like the rainfall. The animation itself is slick, bold and vibrant; and really stands out against the surroundings. There’s such depth in the environment it looks 3D at times, and although the landscapes are barren, they still look beautiful.
Overall, this animated feature is as absolute hidden gem of a film, and if you’re fans of the genre and of anime in general, you should adore it much like I do. Yes, much of the script is weak and most likely lost in translation; plus maybe the lack of big names voicing the characters was a downfall. But the story, score and stunning animation binds it all together. For a film that, at time of writing this, is more than 17 years old; it still stands up against the test of time and might surprise people with it's age. I don’t think this film has a cult following, maybe a small niche of fandom, but it certainly deserves more recognition for what I consider to be one of the best animated films out there.
I would welcome a live action version, if done right and actually keeping much of Won Il’s original score. Maybe someone like Denis Villeneuve at the helm with his visual depth, or maybe even Damien Chazelle with his clear understanding of the union between music and film. I can see Jake Gyllenhaal playing the softly spoken yet stern Shua, Ryan Gosling as the opposition and maybe Karen Gillian as the torn Jay stuck in the middle.
Running Time: 9
The Cast: 6
Job Description: 10
Extra Bonus Points: 10 for the stunning animation and digital design. That with the score creates a wonderful piece of cinema.
Oddly, the aspiration to get to Gibraltar doesn’t look like Gibraltar. Even if the sea levels were to rise to such a degree. The place on the map looks more like the Greek island of Santorini. Just saying.