And yes, the movie's snagged an Oscar nomination for Best Animated Feature (Miyazaki won for 2001's "Spirited Away") and good reviews.
But the valedictory lap has been slowed a bit by puzzled rumblings about the film's subject, which — while loose enough to allow for fantastical sequences — is rooted in historical reality.
On the one hand, a biographical study of engineer and airplane designer Jiro Horikoshi sounds like a great match for Miyazaki's wistful style: It allows for beautiful flying sequences and perhaps some self-portraiture in its study of a detail-minded dreamer who assembles his creations from a combination of math-based design and pure imagination.
The problem? Horikoshi's masterpiece was the Zero, Japan's lethally efficient World War II fighter plane.
Now, "The Wind Rises" is an anti-war film, and Miyazaki takes some pains to criticize the inter-war Japanese mindset. Still, I have to admit there is something head-in-the-clouds about this movie's soft treatment of its central character.
The film is so full of dream sequences and wistful humor and regret about a lost love that it doesn't begin to suggest a deep internal conflict in Horikoshi's work on the machinery of death, if indeed he felt such conflict.
If the movie does have a head-in-the-clouds spaciness, well — what clouds! And what fields, and flying machines, and cityscapes. Miyazaki mounts one spectacular early sequence around the catastrophic Japanese earthquake of 1923, a stunning vision of fire and fear.
The title, referred to more than once, comes from a line from a Paul Valery poem: "The wind is rising! We must try to live!" That soulful stirring defines the film more than its curious treatment of a fighter-plane designer.
Miyazaki is the rare film artist who appreciates the natural world, and for him the wind is more than an idea — it's a physical and spiritual force. That fact that he draws his visions, rather than just photographing them, makes his achievement all the more singular.
Technical note: I saw the film in its Japanese-language, subtitled form. Its U.S. release (it's been a huge hit in Japan) will have both subtitled and dubbed-into-English prints, depending on the theater. The dubbing cast is led by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Emily Blunt and Stanley Tucci.
"The Wind Rises" (three stars)
This is the announced final film from the great animator Hayao Miyazaki ("Spirited Away"), and it is a gorgeous if occasionally puzzling work. The subject is a real-life designer of airplanes, which gives Miyazaki the chance to create beautiful flying sequences; the odd thing is the designer in question created the Zero, Japan's lethal fighter plane of World War II. While the film is anti-war, it might also be a little head-in-the-clouds about its central figure.
Rated: PG-13 rating for violence.
Showing: Alderwood Mall.
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