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Fly the Miyazaki Skies

Hiyao Miyazaki explores the advent of the Zero in 'The Wind Rises'

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WILD BLUE Joseph Gordon-Levitt voices Japanese fighter-plane engineer Jiro Horikoshi in Miyazaki's last film.
  • WILD BLUE Joseph Gordon-Levitt voices Japanese fighter-plane engineer Jiro Horikoshi in Miyazaki's last film.

If anyone could make an appealing full-length animated film about a slide-rule jockey, Hiyao Miyazaki (Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away) is that artist.

The flaws in The Wind Rises, which has been announced as Miyazaki's last film, weren't in the conception. It's a fictionalized biopic of engineer Jiro Horikoshi, who developed the A6M Zero fighter plane. As we see it here, this plane's excellence was derived both from Jiro's dreams and the directly observed biology of wings and bones.

To Miyazaki's credit, there are passing acknowledgements here of the self-deception found wherever engineers toil. The problem at hand always outweighs the purpose of the finished project, and the next thing you know, there are dead bodies everywhere.

Miyazaki could have easily anticipated that we, the grandchildren and nephews and nieces of the Zero's many victims, would have commented on his choice of subject. It's the carrying out of that story—the dull mechanics of it—that makes The Wind Rises Miyazaki's least picture as well as his last. And I'll add that, like any of his fans, I don't want this film to be his last.

In the name of accessibility, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Emily Blunt have dubbed The Wind Rises for the American audience. While I didn't see the dubbed version, it's hard to imagine English dialogue improving what was already a staid and static account of an engineer's life.

The relevance of Jiro to Miyazaki is perhaps autobiographical (take a guess why Miyazaki would make a film about someone whose life consisted of sitting at a desk and trying to excel in his field). And the master's hand is visible in the clip-worthy moment depicting the great quake of 1923, presented as a terrifying ocean-like roll of the land. The injuries from that great disaster become a premonition of the aerial war to come, and that's thematically more interesting than the movie itself. Here was the first stage of the leveling of that green, pre-war Japan, the land Miyazaki knows, loves, misses and tries so hard to recreate in his incomparable jewel-box colors.

'The Wind Rises' is now screening in select theaters.

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