Friday, February 21, 2014

Review: The Wind Rises

Image courtesy of Touchstone Pictures.
It's been said that "The Wind Rises" will be the final feature from Hayao Miyazaki, who is among the greatest film animators of all time. It would be a fitting finale for the filmmaker as his latest picture is yet another story of a dreamer, one who lives by the words of Paul Velary's poem "Le cimetiere marin"- "the wind rises, he must try to live."

The movie is based on the life of Jiro Horikoshi, who designed the Japanese fighter planes for World War II. This has been the subject of some controversy as the film depicts Jiro as a pacifist whose love for planes has nothing to do with war. During a scene late in the film, he notes solemnly that none of the planes he designed for the war returned home. Some critics have pounced on this, noting that the film fails to mention the thousands of lives lost in Asia and the Pacific due to Horikoshi's dreams.

Regardless, the film is often visually beautiful and includes more than a few images that sear themselves onto the brain - a young woman painting atop a wind-blown field, that same young woman reaching off a balcony to catch a paper airplane and a POV shot of a plane attempting to land on an aircraft carrier are just several examples.

Although "The Wind Rises" is being mentioned as the frontrunner for the Best Foreign Film award at this year's Oscars, I don't think it is among Miyazaki's best films. It's a good movie, sure, but it doesn't reach the heights of "Spirited Away" or "My Neighbor Totoro," which is my personal favorite of the animator's works.

"The Wind Rises" squeezes a fair amount of history into its two hours - the massive Kanto earthquake of 1923, the Great Depression, the tuberculosis epidemic and, of course, World War II. These events mostly are played as backdrops to the love story of Jiro and the tragic Nahoko.

Much like Miyazaki's previous works, "Wind" meshes melancholy - Nahoko's illness - with offbeat humor, much of which is provided by Jiro's short and occasionally grouchy boss.

There's a lot to admire and be moved by here as is typically the case in any of Miyazaki's films and the blending of dream sequences with others of stark realism are often jarring and powerful. But despite that its tale aims for epic grandeur, "The Wind Rises" feels like a bit of a minor entry into the director's canon. Thematically, however, it's a fitting way for the filmmaker to hang up his hat. And I doubt you'll see any other animated films as ambitious as this one anytime soon.

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