Release Date: February 21, 2014 (Limited); February 28, 2014 (Wide)
Director: Hayao Miyazaki
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Film Pulse Score: 8/10
For nearly thirty years director Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli have given audiences some of the most beloved animated films ever made. Filled with memorable characters in a fantasy world they have often touched moviegoers of all ages. Miyazaki has given us such timeless classics as My Neighbor Totoro, Kiki’s Delivery Service. Porco Rosso and Princess Mononoke. Their last film, 2008’s Ponyo, was a very cute tale that featured some striking animation. Now, Miyazaki brings the world what is reportedly his swan song, the animated drama The Wind Rises.
Jiro Horikoshi isn’t your typical boy. He always has his head in the clouds and it always seemed like he was born to be a pilot. Frequently dreaming about flying with the legendary Italian airplane designer Caproni he soon pursues his passion of becoming a pilot but soon learns that he doesn’t have the eyesight to be one. As a young man fresh out of university he finds a job at an assembly plant and sets out to make a name for himself as one Japan’s finest airplane engineers.
Instead of a fictional character in a fantasy world Miyazaki sets his sights on a historical figure, the man who designed what is considered by many to be one of history’s most beautiful airplanes, the prototype for the Zero WWII fighter. While the story is fictional the characters were real. Miyazaki weaves a fine homage to not only the man but the engineers and the dream of flight itself. Unlike his previous films this one is grounded in reality where the fantasy elements are left to Jiro’s dreams. Many of those scenes involve Jiro and his interactions with Caproni. There are real world events that are wonderfully animated; a scene set in the city during a large earthquake is a stand out. However it is when things take flight that Miyazaki lets his love for the air take off. Like Porco Rosso or Castle in the Sky you can see how enamored he is about being airborne.
Besides story and settings the characters are often things to remember in a Miyazaki film. Who could forget Kiki or even Totoro? The characters in this film are more traditional in look and performance. Jiro’s boss and Caproni are probably the only two character designs that are closer to the non-traditional look and feel that one would come to expect from characters in a Miyazaki film. That being said the character animation is excellent throughout. There are scenes, the earthquake refugee sequence for example, where you are left scratching your head wondering if that was all hand-drawn or did they use a computer.
Miyazaki’s swan song is a beautifully animated and touching drama about daring to dream and the pursuit of those dreams. It’s a thought provoking look at a society preparing for war and the engineers tasked to build the weapons to be used in combat. It’s a drama that could have easily been made live action but likely wouldn’t have the same impact as Miyazaki has achieved here. Somber and reverent this is a fitting conclusion to the master’s work.