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25 Movies to See Before the Oscars: 25. The Wind Rises

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Nominations: Animated Feature

The Wind Rises may be as far away from Hayao Miyazaki’s normal narrative scope as he’s ever been, that is to say its a normal story – it is a fictionalized account of the life of Jiro Horikoshi, the aeronautical engineer behind the technological genius of the infamous fighter plane the Mitsubishi A6M Zero, the plane of the kamikazes in World War II. The film is a timeless visual masterpiece, which is both incredibly redundant as well as such an understatement. Miyazaki is certainly one of the greatest filmmakers of all time – no hyperboles here – which makes this film, his final work preceding his official retirement, so heartbreaking. Though The Wind Rises is far away from the scope of most animated stories (though it is devoid of sex and violence, it is a PG-13 movie for adult understanding), but as an audience member you can still feel the sincerity of the Japanese master towards this hero, trading his moxie-loaded heroines fighting the monsters of nightmares for an average guy with larger-than-life dreams who spent so much of his life spent ensconced at a drafting table; especially for those familiar with Miyazaki’s work, it makes the most sense for him to save this story with a protagonist so close to home in so many ways, as it were, for his last hurrah in cinema.

There are obvious implications of what the film would be about considering the main character’s major identifying contribution to world history is inventing a machine that served as an adept instrument of death and destruction, even though Horikoshi was above all an engineer who wanted to make planes. Miyazaki tries to keep his focus on Horikoshi’s personal life, foremost his passion for creating beautiful flying machines and then eventually the love for his ailing wife Nahoko. The film keeps the subject of war at as much of a distance as it can, making allowances for it as it has a bigger impact in the story as the years the story depicts progresses towards it and ending with the completion of the Zero right before the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Miyazaki makes good on his love for person over plot though, making a point for his characters to be human, contemplative and sensitive, though instead of praising the pluck of children Miyazaki uses his insights to make Horikoshi a thoughtful man with a life filled with bittersweet beauty feel as respectful and true to life. There are a great many scenes that take place in Horikoshi’s dreams, filled with literal flights of fancy as he dreams of the potential of aircraft design, dreams that always have some crushing addendum to them, whether is it is a vision of some airship carrying bombs that scream and gnash teeth like demons or some grand arresting image of the sky filled with fire. They’re just a few of many moments of startling sympathetic power, your heart bleeding for this guy who’s karma is inevitably guided by the principal that “no good deed goes unpunished.” One of the big inspirations for the film was a quote Miyazaki read by the real Horikoshi about his creations: “All I wanted to do was make something beautiful.” Horikoshi’s journey of betterment and struggle against the backwards thinking of his country and culture are so timely and ring so true, even if they take place on the other side of a fight that took place a world and a few eras away.

With the gross popularity of Despicable Me 2 and Frozen, The Wind Rises is not likely to walk away with anything on Oscar night. It is a triumphant movie nonetheless, with a breadth and weight and beauty that none of the other nominees could hope to compare to. Most of all though it is important, with a staying power that unquestionably outmatches goofy cavemen or bobbling yellow marshmallow men or overly-sexualized klutzy Disney princesses. What a way to end an amazing career. Arigato gozaimasu, Miyazaki-san.

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