Even if you aren't necessarily a big fan of animated motion pictures, there are always certain exceptions. Pixar is known to be one of the studios that manages to draw audiences of all ages, making it a truly magical experience for all. Well, master Hayao Miyazaki is one of those filmmakers who is also able to defy the unspoken rule that some viewers have about animation. He's been transporting viewers into fantastical worlds with wonderful stories, beautiful animation, and exceptional characters for many years. If you aren't very familiar with his work, then I truly recommend for you to go back and start watching. One of the remarkable elements to his work is that his films will have varied effects on different people. They often have deeper meanings than what one would expect from a glance. Miyazaki is back one last time in order to bring us what is likely the final film of his career. Is this final "goodbye" a masterpiece, or does it get swept away by the winds?
Ever since he was a young boy, Jiro Horikoshi (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) has had dreams of flying and designing beautiful airplanes, but he isn't able to fly them in real-life due to the fact that he's nearsighted. However, he's inspired by Caproni (Stanley Tucci), who is a famous Italian aeronautical designer who continues to appear in his dreams. Jiro gets hired at a major Japanese engineering company and has become famous for his brilliant mind. With numerous key historical events occurring, he meets and falls in love with Nahoko Satomi (Emily Blunt). He's deeply inspired by her love and support, as he tries to make the best Japanese airplane that will break the speed records that his co-workers have been trying to achieve.
Whenever we hear about films discussing World War II, it's almost always from the point-of-view of America. The Wind Rises is from the perspective of the Japanese airplane designers at the time, which is definitely intriguing. While this is the backdrop and some opinions are given, this isn't a film necessarily about the war, even though some viewers might be bothered by how light the motion picture treats this topic. Otherwise, this is more of a character study of Jiro Horikoshi. The feature starts with him as a young child, as the status quo is set-up and he directs his attention to wanting to design airplanes rather than ride them, as inspired by Caproni. Following the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923, the film continues to provide character disposition as it spans over numerous years. While I personally didn't have any issues with all of the character development, some audiences might find the pacing to be slow. It definitely is, but it has a reason to be. The Wind Rises is never dull, but it does take its sweet time to build upon its story, the historical events, and most importantly, the character of Jiro. He's an incredibly rich role, and by the time the credits start rolling, you'll feel as if you truly know him. Miyazaki has always been great with characters, and he has proven that point yet again.
The Wind Rises might initially be set in Japan, but it doesn't remain there. Jiro is sent out on an assignment to head to Germany in order to study how they engineer the airplanes, as Japan was incredibly behind on their technology at that point in time. Jiro continues to travel, as he grows as a person and meets new people. Once Nahoko enters the story once again, the audiences gets the opportunity to see another side of him. This Miyazaki picture has a few twists and turns throughout the running time, and while none of them are necessarily unpredictable, they operate rather well in the context of the feature. It also works incredibly well. However, don't expect the movie to take itself seriously for the entire duration. There are quite a few humorous moments mixed throughout, and Miyazaki succeeds at making us laugh whenever he has the desire to do so. There is some situational comedy, but the majority of the humor comes out through the well-crafted dialogue. Miyazaki's strong screenplay manages to carry us, even when the pacing slows.
The story continues to follow Jiro's attempt to make the plane of his dreams, but it continues to flip between his personal life and professional endeavors. It doesn't take very long to be pulled towards Jiro's relationship with Nahoko, but it isn't as prevalent of a point as it should have been. I truly believe that he loves her, but he constantly neglects her for his work. This leaves a lot less time to get attached to this relationship. The further you get into the film, the less you see them together and it seems as if the connection is slowly falling apart. The romantic element of the motion picture should have been made more of a priority than it is. However, the ending itself feels appropriate, and the final moments are incredibly fitting for how Hayao Miyazaki will be ending his long and impressive career.
The press screening that I attended presented the film with an English dub, so I didn't get the opportunity to see it with the original Japanese audio track. However, it still sports some great voices, so I can't really complain. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is great as Jiro Horikoshi, as his voice blends nicely with the lead character. He's accompanied by John Krasinski, Emily Blunt, Martin Short, Stanley Tucci, William H. Gacy, and more. This is a fantastic cast and a pretty great dub job, but I would have liked to see how it would be with the original Japanese audio.
Anybody who has ever seen a Hayao Miyazaki film knows how he handles the visuals in his projects. He isn't as fond of CG as many other filmmakers are. With nearly all modern animation turning digital, it's nice to return to the hand-drawn techniques. It has a look and feel that simply cannot be replaced, as we're transported into Jiro's world. The environments are absolutely breath-taking, and the movement is so incredibly smooth. This animation must be seen on the big screen to be believed, as a small television screen simply won't do these stunning visuals any justice. This has been accompanied with a clear and well-organized audio track. While this is definitely one to see in the cinemas, it will also make a phenomenal Blu-ray.
This is certainly much more grounded in reality than most of Hayao Miyazaki's previous motion pictures. He's usually known for his fantastical elements, but his newest film sets its sights on a single man through a serious time in our world's history. Even though it handles some elements of the war a bit lightly, it's still interesting to see another perspective being told in such a major motion picture. Jiro Horikoshi is a fascinating subject, and I wish that we could have seen more of the relationship that he shared with Nahoko. Regardless, this is still a marvelous film that held constantly had me invested in the characters and their endeavors. The Wind Rises is yet another excellent film by master Hayao Miyazaki, and it is quite fitting as his farewell, but it's most certainly bittersweet to see him depart. Highly recommended!