By Beth Hanna | Thompson on Hollywood September 6, 2013 at 1:53PM
The ambitious The Wind Rises is something of a special case that will divide audiences into two camps, those who find it an unforgettably beautiful and poetic ode to life, and those who tune out to its slow-moving second act, which can wear down the patience of even the well-disposed. On the other hand, the daring subject -- the engineering of technically advanced war planes by the Axis powers for use in the Second World War – is so honestly handled it should not present a problem for Western viewers.
Hayao Miyazaki, the master craftsman of hand-drawn animation, comes bumping into Venice with The Wind Rises, a gorgeous yet ultimately frustrating tribute to the Japanese airplane designer Jiro Horikoshi. Here is a film with a clean outline and a foggy centre. I wanted to love it, tried to love it and then went down in flames. It turns out that it is not always possible to view the beauty in isolation. Sometimes you need to take a long, hard look at the outside world and then perhaps connect the two.
The grim subtext of "The Wind Rises" goes largely unacknowledged, leading to a gaping hole in this otherwise beautifully realized narrative that celebrates the power of curiosity as a motivating force.
For that reason, "The Wind Rises" can be largely forgiven for its apolitical outlook, as Miyazaki trades an interest in the ramifications of Horikoshi's work for his continuing investment in it. Horikoshi's commitment to crafting an apparatus on par with the ethereal machines he imagines can be easily seen as a vessel for Miyazaki to explore his own creative process. Having proven his talent time and again, the master has explained himself.
One man’s dream of flight and an entire nation’s dream of technological and military supremacy give rise to “The Wind Rises,” Hayao Miyazaki’s elegiac, hauntingly beautiful historical drama inspired by the life of aviation engineer Jiro Horikoshi, who designed Japan’s A6M (or “Zero”) fighter plane. As grown-up as 2008’s “Ponyo” was tot-friendly, Miyazaki’s 11th feature draws a sober, socially astute portrait of Japan between the two World Wars, marked by flights of incredible visual fancy, harrowing images of poverty and destruction, and touches of swooning romance.
As an avowed Miyazaki-ite, did I love The Wind Rises? On a first watch, no – but it strikes me that fanboyish adoration would be entirely the wrong response to this film, just as you wouldn’t walk out of a late-period Ozu or Bresson punching the air and whooping for a sequel.
“Artists are only active for ten years,” one character tells Jiro. “We engineers are the same. Live your ten years to the full.” Miyazaki, who is both artist and engineer, has now lived his decade three times over, and yet he continues to astonish.
So it seems both a reassuring assertion of identity and an audacious imposition when Miyazaki finds room almost straight away in "The Wind Rises" for extended -- forgive me -- flights of fancy: dream sequences in which some airplanes seem to distort and grow plumage, gliding (and falling) through the atmosphere with scarcely more human agency than the eerily self-propelled steel creatures of Disney's "Planes." Speaking of which, if we only needed one animated ode to the thrills of aviation on our screens this year -- and we do -- this is certainly it.