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Review: ‘The Wind Rises’

Hayao Miyazaki’s Swan Song

Above: Hayao Miyazaki's "The WInd Rises" tells the story of airplane designer Jiro Horikoshi.

Aired 2/20/14 on KPBS News.

KPBS film critic Beth Accomando reviews Hayao Miyazki's latest and possibly last film, "The Wind Rises."

Transcript

Because of deteriorating eyesight, legendary Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki has announced that "The Wind Rises" will be his last film. The Oscar-nominated film (opening Feb. 21 at Landmark's Hillcrest Cinemas) will be available in both English dubbed and subtitled versions.

Aaaah… that’s the sound of me savoring Hayao Miyazaki’s glorious hand drawn animation styl in his latest film "The Wind Rises." American critics tend to describe him as the Japanese Walt Disney. But British anime scholar Helen McCarthy nailed it when she called him the “Kurosawa of animation.”

Like filmmaker Akira Kurosawa, Miyazaki is a master storyteller with an eye for both intimate detail and epic scope. He also has a knack for stories in which the real and the magical exist side by side. For his cinematic swan song, "The Wind Rises," he turns to the life of Jiro Horikoshi, the man who designed the Zero fighter plane used in World War II.

Some have found this a strange choice and commented that a biography could have easily been done as a live action film and saw nothing to lend itself to animation. To me, that is a very American attitude. In Japan, animation isn't limited to fantasy or kids movies — it is simply a stylistic choice like shooting in black and white. For Miyazaki there is no other choice than animation, and the manner in which he chooses to tell the story makes it a perfect choice. It may not be the real and the magical that exist side by side here, but it is Horikoshi's real life and his imagined one — one where he is a pilot and talks with Italian designer Caproni — that flow into each other with no hard division. Miyazaki understands the importance of that dreamlike to an artist or creative person.

The subject is also fitting because Miyazaki has always loved planes. The name he gave his studio, Ghibli, comes from the nickname for the Caproni Ca.309 Ghibli, an Italian aircraft used in World War II. The Italian word "ghibli" takes inspiration from the Arabic name for the "sirocco," or Mediterranean wind. The studio wanted to suggest it would "blow a new wind through the anime industry and into people's heads." And it did. Miyazaki displayed an affection for aeronautical themes and motifs in films like "Nausicaa" and "Porco Rosso," and returns for what may be the last time to them in "The Wind Rises."

On the surface, it’s a biography of Horikoshi. But on closer inspection, it returns Miyazaki to the themes that have always fascinated him. He has never seen the world in simple black and white terms but rather in a dazzling array of colors. "The Wind Rises" is subtle and complex as it explores the distance between an inventor’s dream and the reality of his invention.

Companion Viewing

  • "Porco Rosso"
  • "My Neighbor Totoro"
  • "Nausicaa"

Horikoshi designs a beautiful airplane that’s then used to destroy Japan’s enemy. At the end, the Italian designer he idolizes notes, “airplanes are beautiful dreams, cursed dreams.” This conundrum also extends to the artist who strives to create a thing of beauty in a world that may be an uglier reality. But Miyazaki’s tone is never bitter, just achingly aware of the contradictions in life.

"The Wind Rises" (rated PG-13 for some disturbing images and smoking) is breathtaking at times, and it reminds us of what a void will be left by Miyazaki’s retirement. The film has been dubbed by Disney, which I have to admit has been doing quite a fine job in its English voice casting (with the exception of Billy Crystal in "Howl's Moving Castle"). For "The Wind Rises," they have smartly cast the ever appealing Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Jiro and Emily Blunt as Jiro's great love. Although the English dub is nicely done, I still urge people to see the film in its original Japanese, it is just so much better.

Watch the trailer.

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