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The Wind Rises (Flack’s Review)

Posted on | April 6, 2014 | Add Comments

Jiro Hirokoshi designs airplanes and finds love in The Wind Rises (2013)Ravishing fantasy adventures that appeal to young and old have always been Japanese animation wizard Hayao Miyazaki’s trademark. Films like My Neighbor Totoro, Princess MononokeKiki’s Delivery ServiceSpirited AwayHowl’s Moving CastlePonyo, and others have gained him international acclaim, a legion of fans, and an Oscar. Personally, I’ve always been a fan; his films’ childlike wonder and sometimes philosophical themes are a always a nice refresher from the crass glut of American CGI.

Miyazaki’s latest film, The Wind Rises, is also his last (you may recognize the title; the film was nominated for Best Animated Feature at this year’s Oscars). Moving away from make-believe worlds of wonder, the film is loosely based on the life of Jiro Horikoshi, a designer and engineer of many Japanese fighters during World War II. The film follows Jiro, from childhood and college, to designing and engineering, past earthquakes, death, and war. Dream sequences, a trip to Germany, failure, innovation, and romance are all on the menu in this epic wartime love story.

With such success with his “kids movies”, you might think Miyazaki would falter with a serious historical drama rated PG-13. And if you thought that…you’d be wrong. The Wind Rises is easily one of his best works, filled with character, depth, and subtext that will probably reward repeated viewings. Like always, the animation itself is the most impressive aspect of the film (and that’s not a bad thing). Miyizakaki, and his Studio Ghibli, have made visual leaps and bounds since My Neighbor Totoro, released 25 years ago. Backgrounds don’t look grainy, characters no longer have a cute simplicity, and fast-moving action has lost the blurriness of yore. Though the less complex technology worked with his previous films, it almost feels like Miyizaki couldn’t have made Wind Rises until now. The sumptuous, rich visuals have 3-D dimensional scope that wows you in every shot. The movie is like a thousand gorgeous paintings: it could be silent film and still be a must-see.

Perhaps that is what makes the rest of the film so impressive. The brain has as much to think about here as the eyes have to see. Miyizakaki’s script is thoughtful and ponderous, with a lot to say about life, love, and war. Most interesting is the exploration of the relationship between man and machine. Jiro builds planes of beauty and complexity, only to watch them be flown off to kill, kill, kill. By creating these planes, is he encouraging war? Or is he simply designing masterpieces of engineering? There’s so much to chew on here and the filmmakers want you bite it all off.

Wind Rises is also peppered with a strong cast of supporting characters: Jiro’s younger sister, his boss, his best friend, and, maybe most fascinating of all, an on-the-run criminal staying at a nice hotel. In telling the story of a man’s life, it’s inevitable for a film to drag a bit here and there. Near the middle, Wind Rises is a little slow but its meandering feel makes it a unique achievement. It’s like we’re living with main character, watching the world from inside his head.

What a way to go out! The Wind Rises‘ arresting animation and contemplative story make this a true masterpiece and one of the best animated films in recent years. Farewell Miyazaki and thanks for the ride.

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