The animated films of Hayao Miyazaki have always been one step above the competition in animation and storytelling, humbling even the best directors at Disney. So you can imagine my excitement and sadness to discover that The Wind Rises will be his final film. Even though this isn’t the first time he’s made this announcement since all the way back in 1997, this latest animated feature seems to have all the signs of a final curtain.
Unlike Miyazaki’s other features, The Wind Rises takes place in a realistic time focusing on the real life of World War 2 fighter plane designer Jiro Horikoshi (Joseph Gordon-Levitt). This is not a war movie, however, as it mainly focuses on Jiro’s dreams and aspirations of designing planes. Air combat does appear in his dreams, but most of his visions are that of speaking to famous plane designer Caproni (Stanley Tucci). In his dreams, Jiro discusses his career aspirations with Caproni as the two of them float and walk along various aircraft in flight.
This continuous inspiration helps fuel Jiro’s desires for becoming a top-notch aircraft designer. Not even the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 that mostly decimated his school could hold him back. All Jiro could think about was how to make a design soar faster and better, despite limited materials. He spends most of his lunch breaks in college looking at fish bones trying to find the perfect curve for his masterpiece of engineering. While every waking moment seems to be obsessed with his craft, he still manages to find time for love when he crosses paths with the beautiful Nahoko (Emily Blunt). And though they spend most of their lives separated by tragedy, their romance stands the test of time.
It should go without saying that the latest film from Studio Ghibli is nothing short of a masterpiece. The animation completely wraps you into the setting with lush green landscapes and bold aerial visions with a painterly quality. The musical score composed by Joe Hisashi matches the majesty of the visuals. I don’t honestly find this to be one Ghibli’s best productions, but even their lesser films are still a massive cut above the rest. There really is nothing like them, even for a film as down to earth as The Wind Rises.
It’s clear why Miyazaki chose such a story for his final film. He identifies with Jiro’s desire for perfection and getting the most out of one’s life. This makes The Wind Rises one of his most personal films that honestly feels more like an examination of how Miyazaki recognizes his lifetime than an analysis of Jiro Horikoshi’s legacy. He inserts several elements from his previous films that captured the wonder of imagination and the human spirit.
That’s not to say that the story of Jiro doesn’t stand well enough on its own. It’s amazing to watch both his career soar and his love for Nahoko develop. Though I must admit we spend much more time inside Jiro’s head than we do with his love interest. This makes the romance feel a little rushed and slightly inorganic given the large amount of time the two spend apart. Uneven as it is, the moments where the two connect are touching and overflowing with emotion more than any other animated couple I’ve ever seen.
At one point Jiro is invited to Germany to examine various aircraft and is thrilled with the experience though heavily censored by officials. As I said, this is not a war movie so you won’t hear much mention of the Nazis or tension with the United States. This is a more personal look at one’s life during rocky times in the background.
If the film had to be classified, it would have to be a romance. This is for both the tragic love story between Jiro and Nahoko as well as Jiro’s passionate obsession with perfection. In one of his visions, Caproni tells Jiro that he’ll only have ten years in the sun. After living through a decade of triumphs and failures, the icon of Jiro’s dreams asks if it was worth it. He agrees as he watches his designs soar off into the sunset. It’s a fitting final scene and a wonderful way to remember one of the greatest animation directors of all-time.