The Wind Rises-680
Courtesy of Studio Ghibli - © Nibariki

Many slick animated features are like fast food, quickly digested and forgotten. Hayao Miyazaki’s The Wind Rises is more like a banquet. Every frame, every composition and background is stunningly beautiful, at a level of artistry we rarely see. The storytelling has the ethereal quality we’ve come to associate with this masterful Japanese filmmaker. What’s more, the narrative is highly personal to Miyazaki, who says this will be his final directorial effort.

The Wind Rises follows a winding path on parallel tracks: a boy named Jiro is passionate about aircraft. Forced to come to grips with the fact that his poor eyesight will prevent him from becoming a pilot, he decides to design planes instead. (“Airplanes are beautiful dreams,” he’s told by his hero, a forward-thinking Italian.) During an eventful train ride in the 1920s he meets a girl who turns his head, and helps her during a crisis. Years later they chance to meet again and fall in love. Their delicate and moving story is set against Jiro’s burgeoning career.

Miyazaki traces a fair amount of 20th century history but does his best to leave war out of the equation. His characters engage in dialogue that emphasizes their love of engineering and design, disdaining the need for bombs in their planes and hoping for passengers instead. (Some people are uncomfortable about the film’s climactic development of the Japanese Zero, one of the deadliest aircraft in World War II, but we can’t ignore or erase history.)

No one else would even attempt to merge a tender, youthful romance—pure, naïve, simple—with a young man’s lifelong pursuit of the perfect flying machine. Certainly no one else would render such a story in old-school, hand-drawn animation instead of surrendering to modern CGI. But that’s what makes Miyazaki unique. The Wind Rises is not a children’s film, and even grown-ups will have to adjust to its leisurely pace and unusual subject matter. Just know that your effort will be handsomely repaid.

(Full disclosure: this review is based on seeing the Japanese-subtitled version of The Wind Rises that was screened for Oscar qualification late last year. I haven’t yet had time to see the newly-dubbed edition Disney is releasing, but based on the studio’s careful treatment of other Miyazaki imports I am counting on a faithful rendition that honors the original. Voice artists include Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Emily Blunt, John Krasinski, Martin Short, Stanley Tucci, Mandy Patinkin, Werner Herzog, Mae Whitman, Jennifer Grey, and William H. Macy.)