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Director: Hayao Miyazaki
Starring: Hideaki Anno, Miori Takimoto, Hidetoshi Nishijima
Running time: 126 minutes
Spirited Away. My Neighbour Totoro. Princess Mononoke: iconic films which transcend the traditional divides between cartoon and cinema, east and west, 'anime' and animation. And behind them all is the undisputed master of animation, Hayao Miyazaki, whose career is so prestigious that his self-designated final film seems almost impossible to live up to such lofty expectations.
While it wouldn't appear so based on the imdb synopsis, The Wind Rises winds up being the most quintessentially Miyazaki film of his career, as he places the interests and obsessions flirting around the edges of his previous filmography front and centre. This is most explicitly his love of airplanes, as the famed auteur tells a loose biography of Jiro Horikoshi, designer of aircraft used by Japan in World War II.
For Miyazaki it's a fairly indulgent subject matter which, at the films weaker spots, means it can meander a little too far, weighing the film down at points when it should be in full flight. But at other points it is within these small joyous details that some of the film's greatest delights can be discovered. In an industry obsessed with technology, Studio Ghibli proudly displays the careful old-fashioned artistry, sparkling on the silver screen in all their perfect imperfection. These gorgeous visuals manage to say so much, thankfully carrying the film through points where the disappointingly stilted subtitles let it down (the dub may have succeeded better in the difficult art of translation).
A biography being an atypical subject matter for animation, Miyazaki cleverly melds the medium to the genre by using his trademark whimsy. Instead of the strange and magical worlds of his previous films, the fantasies of the human mind are represented. Earthquakes become growling monsters, faces become canvases for dreams and the medium elevates a personal story to the perfect epic it could never be otherwise.
Upon its a release in the US, some controversy clouded around the film over its percieved lack of exploration of the ethics of it's tale (real life spoiler: Jiro's planes go onto bomb Pearl Harbour). Miyazaki, known for using his fictional landscapes to project on messages and preach his morals, instead recognises the difference of the backdrop of a real person's life, addressing the issues with nuanced complexity that matches the tender humanity at the heart of the film. This contemplative reflection of the film's graceful landing is a product of a mature man on the brink of retirement, no longer the angry radical of the past.
The Wind Rises is yet another beautifully crafted masterpiece, but one with a bittersweet tinge, frustrated with the difficult nature of life but still crucially optimistic. It serves as a final gift from a retiring filmmaker, to inspire the rest of us who have the rest of our lives ahead of us, as the wind rises and we try to keep on living.