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Saturday, March 8, 2014 08:45:21 PM
Review: The Wind Rises Will Blow You Away

Since his first success stateside in 1988 (the wonderful My Neighbor Totoro), it’s impressive how consistent Hayao Miyazaki has remained. Even at his most fantastic, his films always feature a painful truth the protagonist must cope with. There are no villains in Miyazaki’s movies. Just dreamers and pragmatists trying to deal with the hand they have been given.

After fifty years in the industry and countless Ghibli productions, Miyazaki has called it quits. His retirement is a heavy blow to traditional animation, already struggling against the digital-heavy Hollywood output.

The auteur’s final film is his most personal to date. In The Wind Rises, Miyazaki finds a kindred spirit in Jiro Horikoshi, the designer of Japan’s fighter planes during WWII. Horikoshi never planned to develop combat aircrafts. A do-gooder from early on, Jiro was hoping to become a pilot, but myopia got in the way. His hero, aviation pioneer Gianni Caproni, would provide an alternative: Aeronautical engineering. They connect through dreams, one of the few nods to the filmmaker’s characteristic whimsy.

Willing to put the hours and sacrifice his personal life for the pursuit of his dream, Horikoshi prospered at Mitsubishi. Soon enough, his drive is tested by a delicate and gorgeous girl, Naoko. Victim of a TB epidemic ravaging Japan in the 1930s, Naoko requires ongoing attention and care. A torn Jiro must decide what’s worth the effort, but ultimately it may not be up to him to decide.

The Wind Rises doesn’t press forward at it unfolds. The deliberate pace is tolerable thanks to the gorgeous hand-drawn animation on display (the Great Kanto Earthquake puts digital animation to shame) and the touching relationship between Jiro and Naoko, better than intently romantic dramas. The avoidance of the war subject (presumably to prevent the alienation of American audiences) comes across as hypocritical, but is a small flaw in an otherwise unforgettable farewell letter.

Four planets. The Wind Rises is now playing at the Roxy.

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