Jiro Horikoshi, a boy living in early twentieth-century Japan, dreams of flying airplanes. Unfortunately, he is near-sighted, and becoming a pilot is impossible for him. Then, he has a dream: the great Italian aeronautical engineer Caproni speaks to him in a dream, telling Jiro that one doesn’t need to have any knowledge of flying planes to design them, sparking an intense desire in the young boy to create beautiful airplanes. Thus begins the story of Jiro in the legendary Hayao Miyazaki’s latest, and possibly final, film, “The Wind Rises”. It’s something quite different from the fantastical material Miyazaki normally directs, but that doesn’t make it any less powerful; in fact, it is one of the most complex, gorgeous, and moving films ever to come from Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli.
The film follows a good deal of Jiro’s (voiced in the dubbed English version by Joseph Gordon-Levitt) life, while also depicting significant events in Japanese and world history. On his way to university, Jiro experiences what is later known as the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923, during which he rescues a young girl named Nahoko and her maid, who breaks her leg, and returns them safely home. Along with his school friend Honjo (John Krasinski), Jiro is hired by a Japanese engineering film to design planes that are up to date with the rest of the world, especially Germany. Meanwhile, the economy sinks into depression, while, as the 1930s progress, the world inches closer to war, affecting the kind of planes Jiro is tasked with designing. Just when it seems like he will never accomplish his dream, Jiro runs into a now grown-up Nahoko (Emily Blunt), beginning a romance that gives him strength, combined with his recurring dreams in which Caproni (Stanley Tucci) encourages him.
“The Wind Rises” is a biographical drama that set on an epic scale, and yet, the events of the world never take the focus away from Jiro and his personal quest. He is fleshed out entirely, so much so that he feels like a real person the audience knows. The supporting players are also well-rounded, from Nahoko and Honjo to Jiro’s gruff boss Kurokawa (Martin Short, who provides some great comic relief) and his persistent sister Kayo (Mae Whitman). The environments also feel very real, the only elements of fantasy coming into play when Jiro dreams—and even then, his dreams are seen in a way that it is sometimes difficult to distinguish them from reality.
The story is aided by the beautiful score and gorgeous animation. From lush background paintings to complicated crowd scenes and natural disasters, the movie is a thrill to look at.
Perhaps the film’s only flaw is that it creates a few conflicts but never resolves them, including the pursuit of Jiro by the secret police. But this doesn’t hinder the story too much, as it reaches an emotional, tear-inducing conclusion. This may be Miyazaki’s most realistic film, but it is also his most complex, layering many characters, situations on top of each other while sometimes blurring the line between dreams and reality, forcing the viewer to dig deep to find its true meaning.
It’s sad to think that this animated masterpiece, which recently lost the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature to Disney’s “Frozen”, may be Hayao Miyazaki’s last film, at least as a director. But if it is, at least he is going out with what may possibly be his finest movie out of a filmography laced with classics.
Runtime: 126 minutes. Rated PG-13 for some disturbing images and smoking.
Check out showtimes for this movie and more at the following St. Louis-area theaters:
- Wehrenberg Theatres
- AMC Theatres
- Regal Movie Theatres
- Galleria 6
- Chase Park Plaza
- Moolah Theatre
- Hi-Pointe Theatre
- St. Andrews Cinema
- Plaza Frontenac Cinema
- Tivoli Theatre
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