VENICE, Italy -- The presence of two Japanese animation movies in competition at the Venice Film Festival this year has created a contest within a contest, and brought to the big screen two strikingly different pictures.
The revered Hayao Miyazaki is among the favorites for the top prize at Saturday's award ceremony with "Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea," his uplifting, colorful take on "The Little Mermaid" that has already stormed the box office in Japan.
Up against him in the 21-film competition is Mamoru Oshii, whose bleak yet spectacular "The Sky Crawlers" has received mixed reviews and, according to trade media, fallen well behind Miyazaki in domestic ticket sales.
In "The Sky Crawlers," humanoids are genetically designed to live forever as teenage pilots until they are shot dead in fierce air battles.
The "reality TV" wars fought by so-called "Kildren" are between global corporations and are staged purely for the entertainment of the general population, which tracks the battles on television.
Oshii, 57, was quick to draw comparisons between himself and his more famous competitor, who won an Oscar for "Spirited Away" and has a sizable following overseas. In production notes for "The Sky Crawlers," Oshii says that with stunning air battle scenes, "I am confident I can beat Miyazaki. Of course he is known to argue he is the best."