The Wind Rises, the final film from the legendary Academy Award winning director Hayao Miyazaki, is a fitting swan song for the recently retired master animator. Featuring themes of inspiration, innovation and the inevitable obsolescence of an art form, Miyazaki's choice of the brilliant Japanese airplane designer Jiro Horikoshi as his subject provides him with the perfect onscreen counterpart to tell his last cinematic story.
Flight is a common factor in much of Miyazaki's work, from Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind to Kiki's Delivery Service, and The Wind Rises brings it full circle, to the literal creation of flight. The film tells the true story of Horikoshi from his schoolboy youth to his engineering triumph, the Mitsubishi A6M Zero fighter plane (used during World War II against the Allies... best not to dwell too much on that). Along the way there is an ultimately tragic tale of lost love found that becomes the heart of the film and provides its most bittersweet moments.
A biopic is an unusual genre for animation, thus (save for a few dreamlike meetings between our protagonist and his fantasy mentor, Italian aviation genius Giovanni Battista Caproni) the film is naturally devoid of any of Miyazaki's typical magical elements. And while that omission makes The Wind Rises his most accessible for those of us unfamiliar with Japanese lore and culture, it doesn't mean it lacks any of Miyazaki's beloved trademark artistic style. There's plenty of his gorgeous sky- and landscapes, as well as his intricately detailed flying machines that are somehow simple and complex at the same time.
For a complete flight of fantasy from Studio Ghibli (the animation house that Miyazaki built) one need to look no further than The Tale of the Princess Kaguya, directed by Isao Takahata (My Neighbors the Yamadas).
Magically "born" in the middle of a bamboo patch, the little princess is adopted by a hardworking farmer and his patient wife. Considered a "gift from heaven", the new father builds a castle for his new daughter so she can be the princess he feels she is destined to become. But the newly-christened Princess Kaguya would rather frolic and play, even though she grows more beautiful — and displays more magical talents — day by day.
A recent Oscar nominee for Best Animated Feature (as was The Wind Rises last year), Princess Kaguya is steeped in Japanese folklore, often to the point of confusion for us westerners. Nevertheless, this is a Tale beautifully told through a rougher hand drawn style reminiscent of ancient water color drawings.
The Wind Rises: B+
The Tale of the Princess Kaguya: B-
The Wind Rises and The Tale of the Princess Kaguya are both available now on DVD and Blu-ray:
Review by Kirby Holt, creator and editor of Movie Dearest, The QuOD: The Queer Online Database and the Out Movie Guide.