The Summit of the Gods review: Netflix’s intense manga adaptation is a trip

The space in between the popular picture of climbing up Mount Everest and the plain truths of the climb is shocking, as soon as you begin checking out the information. It’s simple to glamorize the journey as a declaration about challenging human constraints and dominating nature. Step one: Trek to the top of the greatest mountain in the world “because it’s there.” Step 2: Stand triumphantly at the top, looking down on the whole of the world. Step 3: Take pleasure in the sensation of indomitability.

However there’s absolutely nothing romantic about the real procedure, which usually includes paying big amounts of cash and learning reams of bureaucracy in order to invest approximately 2 months on a grueling climb with a low possibility of success. The top is usually just obtainable for a couple of weeks and even days each year due to the weather condition, and numerous explorations need to be aborted except that last climb. Even today, it’s remarkably typical for climbers to pass away on Everest.

The rich, cold animated French movie The Top of the Gods, based upon Jirô Taniguchi’s manga adjustment of Baku Yumemakura’s 1998 unique, doesn’t attempt to offer the romantic view of Everest, or depict the imagine arriving as brave or attractive. Director Patrick Imbert concentrates on the information of the journey, and the grim drive that would lead individuals to risk their lives, not for a fast and adrenaline-spiking excitement, however for a drawn-out, separating, tiring legend. Imbert’s movie, now streaming on Netflix, acknowledges that there’s a sort of nobility in single-mindedly pursuing a cause, despite the expenses. However he depicts that pursuit in a mournful, thoughtful method, without glossing over how carefully it looks like insanity.

The story’s structure is telling — much like Citizen Kane, it features a journalist trying to reconstruct a man’s life by talking to his former friends, peers, and partners, reconstructing the threads of his history in order to understand him better. But the journalist, Fukamachi Makoto (Damien Boisseau), isn’t trying to paint a portrait of a dead man, he’s trying to track down a living one. Working as a magazine photographer, Fukamachi heads up Everest to take pictures of a Japanese expedition in progress. When they prepare poorly and run behind schedule, they’re forced to turn back early, leaving him without the photos he needed for his assignment.

Returning to Kathmandu to complain to his editor, Fukamachi briefly sights a man he believes is Habu Joji (Eric Herson-Macarel), a once-famous climber who disappeared years ago. And he’s holding a camera Fukamachi believes might have belonged to George Mallory, an explorer who disappeared on Everest in 1924. The mystery of whether Mallory and his climbing partner Andrew Irvine reached the top of Everest, 29 years before the first recorded summit, still haunts the climbing world, and Fukamachi hopes the camera will hold the answers. (The body of the real-life Mallory was found in 1999, but his camera was never unearthed.)

When Fukamachi can’t track Habu down, he retraces the man’s steps, from his childhood to his days as the prickly outlier in a Japanese climbing club to his solo career, attempting startling and record-breaking feats in an attempt to make a name for himself and earn the acclaim and sponsorships that will let him take on greater trials. It’s clear that Habu was driven by both a powerful obsession with pushing the limits of what was possible for climbers, and by an equally powerful determination to walk his path alone, for reasons shaped by the experiences Fukamachi gradually uncovers.

There’s a powerful sense of melancholy to The Summit of the Gods, somewhat similar to the melancholy and sense of alienation in the otherwise dissimilar (and also on Netflix) French animated movie I Lost My Body. Only one of these movies has a severed hand crawling around Paris fighting urban wildlife, but both are about people who’ve become emotionally disconnected from those around them, and have found a reason to go on by doggedly chasing a difficult task. And both tap into that French sense of ennui, a weariness of the soul that comes from finding most things mundane and unengaging. I Lost My Body’s protagonist finds his escape in chasing a girl, while Habu finds his in chasing ever-more-difficult climbs, and the dream of fame that might go with them.

But Fukamachi finds his in tracking Habu. He’s just as obsessive as Habu, and just as prone to leaving other people behind as he doggedly pursues his fixation. It’s clear that both men are remarkably alike, even if their goals differ. Both of them clearly see the barriers in front of them, and can’t find it within themselves to turn away from the chase and live normal lives, no matter how unsatisfying each new achievement becomes in turn.

A small yellow tent and two dwarfed human figures at the foot of a massive mountainside in The Summit of the Gods

Image: Netflix

The movie’s methodical pace and quiet, internal air take some patience, but the climbing sections are dizzying and emotional, with high stakes and realism-driven action. Imbert makes sure the audience feels every misstep, every crumbling foothold and loose piton, every trembling and overtaxed muscle or fraying rope. When climbers do face Everest, viewers who’ve seen photos of the ice walls and base camps may be surprised at the level of specificity in this film, and how hard Imbert works for you-are-there veracity. He doesn’t seem to be out to demythologize Everest, but he never makes it look easy or stylized, either. For most of us, this intimate, hands-on look at the mechanics of mountaineering is the closest we’re likely to get to the highest point on the planet.

That sense of going along on the climbers’ journey is the primary attraction of The Summit of the Gods, which keeps its other pleasures measured and minimal. The character animation is simple, the backgrounds often shooting for a simplified, only mildly stylized photorealism. There’s none of the energy or visual play that animation does so well. It isn’t quite rotoscoping, but there’s a sense of weighty reality that most animated films lack.

But where the film lacks speed or a sense of play, it instead brings in a form of awe, both at the scale of Habu’s endeavors, and at the clear danger he’s braving on his quest to reach the top of his field and the top of the world. He has his share of victories, but they all come with costs and losses. The sense that there’s always going to be another mountain ahead layers a heavy sense of inevitability over the story. The Summit of the Gods isn’t a joyous film, and it isn’t a dreamy one. But it does feel like a remarkably insightful meditation, both about what it would really be like to fight your method up Mount Everest, and about why people keep taking up the challenge.

The Top of the Gods remains in minimal theatrical release and is streaming on Netflix now.

Jobber Wiki author Frank Long contributed to this report.