December 3, 2021 – This French animated film, based on a Japanese manga (comic book) series of the same name by Jiro Taniguchi (this was previously made into a 2016 live action film “Everest: The Summit of the Gods”) is both exotic and seriously dramatic.
The basic story is essentially a mystery which a journalist tries to solve by finding a famous mountain climber who does not want to be found. The story he eventually uncovers is less important than the spiritual truths he finds out about himself in the course of his quest.
The mystery is who was really the first man to summit Mt. Everest? Was it Edmund Percival Hillary and Tenzing Norgay, on May 29, 1953, as most believe, or was it George Mallory and Andrew Irvine in 1924? Mallory and Irvine disappeared while climbing Everest and nobody knows if they reached the top. Mallory's body was found in 1999, but the camera he carried with him was not found, and neither was the picture of his wife he intended to place at the top of Everest.
The missing camera, if found, may contain photographic proof of the ultimate success, or failure, of Mallory and Irvine's attempt to summit Everest. This movie is about the search for that camera. The search is conducted by photojournalist Fukamachi after he is approached by a man who claims to have Mallory's camera. He later spots a famous climber, Habu, who confronts, and takes the camera away from the first man, claiming he stole it. Fukamachi chases Habu, but he escapes.
Fukamachi knows that if he finds the camera, and if it is really Mallory's Everest camera, if there is film still in it and if that film can still be developed, he may have the crowning story of his career. Those are some serious “ifs,” but the clues are strong enough for Fukamachi to track down the elusive Habu, who is probably hiding somewhere high in the mountains around Everest.
While trying to find clues that could lead him to Habu, he discovers the story of Habu's life, and how he became one of the best mountain climbers in the world. One haunting story he discovers is about Habu's climb with a young man who is killed in a fall. Habu feels responsible for the young man's death. One of the reasons he feels responsible is because his fame led the young man to insist on being with him on that fatal climb. Habu consequently withdraws from society, becoming a kind of mountain-climbing hermit.
Fukamachi himself is a top-notch mountain climber, and this makes it easier for him to understand why Habu has withdrawn from society. Ultimately, Habu sees enough of himself in Fukamachi to allow him to tag along on a climb along a dangerous new route up the face of Everest.
Fukamachi learns that mountain climbing is about trying to push yourself to your limits and beyond. Everest has been climbed many times, but mountain climbers of a certain kind, and Habu is one of them, constantly seek out new ways to challenge themselves and other climbers. One way is to try a new route, or to climb a mountain faster, or with less equipment, etc.
In his quest for the missing Mallory camera, Fukamachi learns more about Habu and himself and the inner need that compels mountain climbers to push themselves to new heights. The story is very matter-of-fact and dramatic. It does not romanticize mountain climbing or climbers. It simply tries to explain why they are the way they are. It does not shy away from the deadly realities of elite mountain climbing.
This is a very dramatic and effective animated story, but is a symphony comprised of a single note. It lacks humor, or love, or many other human emotions or experiences. It is about one thing: mountain climbers. The color spectrum of the film is similarly muted, reflecting the seriousness of the film, as well as a lack of the variety of human emotional colors. This film rates a B.
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