Japanese animation titan Hayao Miyazaki’s reported final film The Wind Rises is a heck of a way to bow out for the filmmaker whose credits include My Neighbour Totoro, Howl’s Moving Castle, Princess Mononoke and Oscar winner Spirited Away.
The Wind Rises is nominated in this year’s animated film Oscar race. While it’s not a straight-up children’s film in the same way Frozen or Despicable Me 2 are, it’s kid-friendly. The best way I can describe The Wind Rises is that it’s a (superb) period drama that happens to be (gorgeously) animated.
We meet Jiro Horikoshi (voiced in the English-dubbed version by Joseph Gordon-Levitt), the Japanese designer of WWII fighter planes, as a young boy in a Japanese grade school. He’s studious and well liked and even stands up for a student being bullied. He’s a boy who does the right thing, even when his face pays the price for his good deeds. His dream is to fly airplanes, but he knows his terrible eyesight makes that impossible. So he commits to designing and building them and we see him going through the schooling required to make that his career. The patience and time and care with which Miyazaki crafts his stories are exemplary. Jiro is on a train when a devastating earthquake hits Tokyo in 1923. Here, too, he helps people get to safety and uses his sliding ruler for a makeshift cast on a woman’s broken leg. He’ll meet this woman, Nahoko (Emily Blunt), again later in life. She’s the one who got away who came back. The Wind Rises is a beautiful love story – not just between Jiro and Nahoko, but Jiro and his craft, his country. He’s regarded as a genius by his peers in university and has no trouble landing a lucrative job after graduation. There’s a scene in which Jiro sees the first plane he’s designed flown that’s absolutely heartrending – and this is before it’s even destroyed. The film’s score is subtle but works very well with it.
The Wind Rises is a dream of a film, which is apt because so many of the film’s most moving and awe-inducing scenes are dream sequences. Jiro gets counsel in his slumber from Italian aircraft designer Giovanni Battista Caproni (Stanley Tucci) who tells him planes are miracles and should be treated as such. The messages are subtle but poetic. It’s pre-WWII Japan, and there’s no way Jiro can design planes that won’t be used to kill. The dream Caproni says he’d rather live in a world with pyramids, suggesting all great human accomplishments also have a great human cost. The voice cast in the English-dubbed version includes Gordon-Levitt, Blunt, Tucci, Werner Herzog, Martin Short, John Krasinski and Mandy Patinkin. The Wind Rises is Miyazaki’s least fantastical film: there are no talking animals, or anthropomorphism, or a centuries-old fight between the human and spirit world, but it’s inherently fabled.
The Wind Rises opens in Montreal Friday, Feb. 28.