At first, Netflix animation film “The Summits of Gods”, which was released a few days ago, draws our attention for its odd combination. Although it is based on a Japanese manga series of the same name written and illustrated by Jiro Taniguchi (It was developed from Baku Yumemakura’s 1998 novel, by the way), the film is actually made in France, and you may find it rather awkward to see those Japanese characters in the film speaking in French, even while admiring those gorgeous visual moments rendered in cell animation.
The story begins with a photographer named Makoto Fukamachi (voiced by Damien Boisseau), who is doing his latest assignment for a mountaineering magazine around Everest of the Himalayas during the opening scene. Although he does his best for capturing a bunch of Japanese mountaineers trying to climb on Everest, but these mountaineers’ attempt is soon aborted due to an unexpected bad weather, and everyone returns to Kathmandu in the end.
When he is drinking along with others at a local bar, Fukamachi was approached by someone trying to sell a certain old camera to him. According to that person, this camera once belonged to George Mallory, who attempted to climb Everest in 1924 but was unfortunately gone missing while presumed to be dead somewhere in Everest. Fukamachi naturally does not believe that at all, but then he comes across a mountaineer named Habu Joji (voiced by Eric Herson-Macarel), and, after witnessing Joji taking away the camera from that person, Fukamachi becomes convinced that that camera really belonged to Mallory.
And we hear from Fukamachi about why Mallory’s camera is so important. As many of you know, Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay are officially the first ones to succeed in reaching to the top of Everest, but it was also speculated that Mallory actually succeeded first. If he did photograph his moment of success as he promised before trying to climb on Everest, that camera will surely give a big news to surprise the world.
However, as he embarks on searching for Joji, Fukamachi is reminded again and again of how elusive and anti-social Joji has been throughout his whole life. Since he was young, Joji has been quite passionate about climbing mountains, but he did not get along that much with his fellow mountaineers, and he often let himself ostracized by many of others around him. Always looking more serious in comparison, he even did not hesitate to say that he will definitely save himself first instead of letting himself and his partner die together under a certain impossible circumstance, and that certainly killed the mood among him and others.
Of course, such a situation like that soon happened to him as expected when Joji subsequently tried to climb on a big rock wall along with a young man who had worshiped him from the beginning. What eventually happened after a long and grueling period between both of them is pretty devastating to watch to say the least, and that consequently pushed Joji into more solidarity as he kept driving himself into more risk and peril. At one point, we see Joji attempting on one of the most dangerous climbing routes in the Alps, and that is followed by a literally chilling scene where he must not only deal with the extreme weather condition but also confront his growing guilt about that unfortunate incident.
Around the point where Fukamachi is approaching closer to Joji than before, the film gives us a bunch of impressive visual moments to behold. Director/co-writer Patrick Imbert and his crew did a fairly good job of evoking the texture and details of Japanese animation on the screen, and they certainly did their best in case of the scenes depicting those snowy landscapes of the Alps and the Himalayas. These scenes look quite striking on the screen, and I particularly like one involved with a big and wide crevice which looks pretty daunting for its unfathomable depth.
Meanwhile, the story brings some human depth to both of its two main characters. While that camera eventually turns out to be more or less than a MacGuffin (Is this a spoiler?), we get to know more about Joji’s constant attraction toward climbing onto those high mountains, and we also come to sense more of why Fukamachi was drawn to that camera as well as Joji. As one slowly follows the other later in the story, the film gradually becomes a sort of meditation on human nature, and those gorgeous depiction of cold and snowy summits in the film come to feel more haunting than before.
On the whole, “The Summits of Gods” is a fairly solid piece of work reminiscent of several notable mountaineering documentaries ranging from “Touching the Void” (2003) to “14 Summits: Nothing Is Impossible” (2021), which also is incidentally available on Netflix at present. Although the story and characters are rather simple and broad in my humble opinion, the film compensates for this weak aspect enough via its excellent visual depiction of the risks and challenges of climbing on those high rocky places, and that reminds me again of why cell animation is sometimes better than digital animation in terms of style, mood, and drama. Yes, as I said you before more than once, I am your average indoor guy who never dreams of climbing onto such risky spots like Everest, and I surely winced more than once while watching “The Summits of Gods” at last night, but I am willing to savor its several good moments again someday.