Movie review: Hayao Miyazaki’s ‘The Wind Rises’ mostly soars

Hayao Miyazaki's "The Wind Rises" is set to be the prolific anime director's last film before retirement.

The animated film “The Wind Rises” is a monumental moment in world cinema, as it is not only legendary Japanese animated filmmaker Hayao Miyzaki at the top of his game, but also it being his last film before retirement. Interestingly, “The Wind Rises” is also his most provocative.

The film has caused a bit of controversy in Miyazaki’s native land as it is a fictionalized WWII-era biography of Jiro Horikoshi (voiced by Joseph Gordon-Levitt), the aeronautical engineer who designed the Mitsubishi A6M Zero fighter plane – an aircraft that would be used by the Japanese Imperial Navy to attack Pearl Harbor.

“The Wind Rises,” which harkens back to the sweeping Hollywood epics of yore, tells the tale of the starry-eyed Horikoshi, whose dreams of one day building elegant and beautiful airplanes come true – a reality that will inflict heartache upon not only himself but the whole world.

The story is composed of two realities – the everyday world where Horikoshi and his friend and fellow aeronautical engineer Honjo (voiced by John Krasinski) design dependable and state-of-the-art aircrafts, and a fanciful realm where Horikoshi dreams he meets Italian aircraft designer Gianni Caproni (voiced by Stanley Tucci). Caproni encourages the film’s protagonist to pursue his aeronautical ambitions. In a commendable display of artistry, the 73-year old Miyazaki expertly weaves together these two tonally disparate threads. It’s jaw-dropping sequences like this film’s seamless transitions between realities that has one wishing Miyazaki will knock it off with this retirement nonsense.

While sublimely crafted, “The Wind Rises” does, at times, become tedious to watch. Miyazaki’s storytelling flourishes best and most brilliantly when the story is centered in the ambitious dream world of Horikoshi – not surprising when you consider the vast majority of his work have been fantasy films, such as “Spirited Away,” “Princess Mononoke” and “Howl’s Moving Castle.”

The dream world scenes with Caproni are delightful, but become few and far between as the plot becomes more centered around Horikoshi’s romantic relationship with Naoko (voiced by Emily Blunt). While ultimately touching, for most of the film the pair’s blossoming romance feels schmaltzy and, at times, verges on almost seeming nonessential to the film’s overall plot. Fortunately, Miyazaki corrects this mistake right before the film’s conclusion.

In many ways, outside of the film’s incredible visual flare, “The Wind Rises” is most interesting when one begins to think about the underlying message of the film – war fosters innovation in science and engineering, and that innovation will bring about misery long before it brings about good. The airplanes of grace and beauty that fill Horikoshi’s dreams must first become flying instruments of death, as he is being funded by the Japanese military/industrial complex. There are just a couple of scenes where either Horikoshi or another character show reservations about their work. However, they are fleeting as the characters are determined to bring their dreams to life.

One cannot watch “The Wind Rises” and walk away without feeling a bit unnerved. You’ll share in Horikoshi’s excitement as his plane pass its test flight in the film’s climatic moment. But after you’ve finished rooting him on, you’ll feel a sense of dread. Perhaps Miyazaki’s most important message with “The Wind Rises” is that an artist is a slave to his creative ambitions – no matter the final cost.

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