Friday, February 28, 2014

Movie Review: "The Wind Rises"

How do you even begin to talk about the final film from one of your favorite filmmakers to ever live?  Japanese animation maestro, Hayao Miyazaki, has made some of the greatest animated films ever.  From My Neighbor Totoro to Spirited Away, Miyazaki's imagination seemingly knows no bounds, so when he announced last Fall that The Wind Rises would be his last film before retirement, I immediately knew I had to see it on the biggest screen possible, no matter what.  The Wind Rises is simply put, another Miyazaki masterpiece.  If you are already a fan of his works, then you will love it, and even if this is your first taste, this very well might be the best place to start.

The film tells the slightly fictionalized life story of one of Miyazaki's personal heroes, aeronautical engineer, Jiro Horikoshi.  While Jiro is now more famously known as the man who built the Zero Fighter that the Japanese used to bomb Pearl Harbor, the real Jiro was a pacifist who only wanted to build something beautiful.  The film follows Jiro from 1918 all the way through the start of World War II and details the sweet, yet tragic love story between him and his ailing wife, while also showing how Jiro was inspired to create the Zero Fighter.

Upon seeing The Wind Rises, it's obvious why Miyazaki chose this particular story as his swan song, it features every major thematic idea of his various works all compiled into one narrative, and yet it is very different from any of his other films.  Could Miyazaki have created another lavish fantasy adventure as his final film?  He could have, and all of his fans would have watched it, but there's something special about The Wind Rises that makes it worth every ounce of salt in the world.  Miyazaki's pacifism, his eccentricity, and his optimism are all on full display throughout the narrative, all represented through the eyes of Jiro and how he processes everything through vivid daydreams and his own quiet optimism.

As far as the animation goes, the folks at Studio Ghibli have all done another marvelous job.  The dream sequences, where Jiro envisions planes, are all some of the most gorgeous images Ghibli animators have ever drawn, and the way that the animators use wind, especially when dealing with any outdoor scene between Jiro and his wife, Nahoko, is simply stunning.  There is an expressionistic flair to the wind that is very reminiscent to how Studio Ghibli approached the water in Ponyo.  The wind feels alive and almost becomes a bit of an invisible puppeteer, often working as hard as the music to cue you into the emotions of the story.  Speaking of the music, Miyazaki's longtime collaborator, composer Joe Hisaishi, has delivered another breathtaking score that manages to defy expectation with the Italian-inspired theme juxtaposed against the Japanese setting.

I really can't say enough about The Wind Rises.  Perhaps the film has so much resonance for me because I am such a huge Miyazaki fan (he ranks behind only Steven Spielberg in my book of favorite directors of all-time), but The Wind Rises truly is a sensational film as well.  This is quite possibly the most romantic film Miyazaki has ever made, turning paper airplanes into a new form of love letter, while also delivering some of the most fully fleshed out characters Miyazaki has ever committed to film.  Like all of Miyazaki's works, the characters are all slightly eccentric, funny, and extremely lovable, even in all of their flaws, but there is a depth to every character and their motivations, in particular Jiro and Nahoko, that is deeply moving.

While The Wind Rises is not typical Miyazaki, the spirit of invention is still there in every frame, where you feel as if you are discovering a long lost epic from the Golden Age of Hollywood or something.  That's actually how The Wind Rises feels to me.  The Wind Rises is so simple, yet complex at the same time, and is consistently entertaining while being a movie you'll definitely want a hankie for.  Thank you, Miyazaki-san, for this film and for a career that has inspired me so much.

I give The Wind Rises an A+!

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