Cinematic Thoughts for Cinematic Minds
Director: Hayao Miyazaki
Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Emily Blunt, John Krasinski, Stanley Tucci, Werner Herzog
From boyhood, Jiro Horikoshi (Zach Callison, Gordon-Levitt) dreamt of airplanes, idolising the famed Caproni (Stanley Tucci), an aircraft designer. Jiro continued to follow this dream into adulthood, designing planes for a career. As war approaches on the horizon, Jiro builds planes for the Japanese airforce, but their allegiance to Nazi Germany causes Jiro concern.
Through the last thirty-five years, Hayao Miyazaki has become almost undoubtedly the best known and most beloved anime filmmaker, even arguably wresting the comparison of Japan’s Walt Disney from the late Osamu Tezuka. Now, Miyazaki is announcing his retirement from direction (although already claims to take it with a pinch of salt are circulating) and has left his “last” film, The Wind Rises. Legendary filmmakers rarely leave their masterpieces till last. Hitchcock’s Family Plot (1976) is a perfectly fine effort that lacks stature of his earlier work, Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut (1999) is only just starting to get serious recognition (admittedly most of Kubrick’s films took time to get accolades) and Kurosawa’s last feature, Maddayo (1993) is far more obscure than his classics. The Wind Rises is not Miyazaki’s finest work, but it can still be viewed as his defining work because it seems his most personal.
A director associated with usually peaceful tales involving children, usually girls, and the wondrous creatures they encounter, Miyazaki’s best films such as My Neighbour Totoro (1988) and Spirited Away (2001) fall into that vein. The Wind Rises focuses on a male protagonist who is adult through most of the film, was a real person and the film leans against the backdrop of World War II, bringing some comparisons with Miyazaki’s associate Isao Takahata’s work in Grave Of The Fireflies (1988).
However, that’s not to say the film is not entirely ideologically estranged from Miyazaki’s work. His views supporting environmentalism and feminism are not prominent here, but the film is viewed from a pacifist perspective has a distinctly socialistic outlook (the line: “Airplanes are not tools for war. They are not for making money. Airplanes are beautiful dreams.” is a perfect encapsulation of Miyazaki’s worldview shining into the film).
Of course, the animation is as beautiful as always with some strikingly beautiful sequences, indulging Miyazaki’s love of flight. Miyazaki’s father had been an aeronautical engineer during World War II, inspiring Miyazaki’s own of love of flight which appears throughout his filmography and even informed his own studio, Studio Ghibli (Ghibli being the name of a kind of Italian fighter plane). The film clearly comes from a personal place within Miyazaki which gives the film a wealth of insight.
The film does fall apart a little with the dub attached by Disney. Despite some backlash from Ghibli fans, I’ve always found the english-language dubs used by Disney to be perfectly fine. Here, it’s less satisfying. Though he’s usually a fine actor I don’t feel as much conviction in the performance of Joseph Gordon-Levitt with few exceptions in the more emotive scenes (even if those scenes accompany grotesquely large tears, a surprising flaw in the usually astonishingly good animation). Werner Herzog, of all people, also makes a brief appearance as a German acquaintance of Jiro and whilst it’s very novel to have the often nihlistic and distinctively-voiced director in a Miyazaki film, he feels an odd fit with the character. The best performances are the smaller and more colourful ones from Stanley Tucci as Caproni and Martin Short as Kurokawa, Jiro’s high-strung boss.
And so, much as he began with the action-adventure Lupin III tie-in Castle Of Cagliostro back in 1979, Miyazaki reaches the end of his directorial career with an uncharacteristic film and whilst it may not have all the magic of his best work, he probably shouldn’t have ended it any other way.
The world will miss this brilliance.