If Hayao Miyazaki’s career has taught us anything, it’s that animation doesn’t have to be streamlined. It doesn’t have to be linear nor does it have to obey certain laws and codes. Animation, as evidenced in movie’s like Spirited Away and Howl’s Moving Castle, can be — and most probably should be — lateral. It’s the one medium where anything and everything can happen.
The Wind Rises is Miyazaki’s latest movie, and he’s announced many times that it will be his last. Who knows if this is true? No one means what they say anymore. Michael Schumacher swore he’d retire from Formula One racing. Peter Jackson promised not to shoot three films back to back again. The Wind Rises might not be a swan song. If it is, it will signal the passing of an era. Miyazaki’s movies have challenged animation to a degree Disney could only have dreamed of. They are often colourful and kinetic, and the stories they tell do not employ conventional methods of delivery. The boundaries of the human imagination exist only to be broken down.
The Wind Rises tells the fictionalised story of a real man, Jiro Horikoshi (Hideaki Anno), who became one of Japan’s leading aeronautical engineers during the 1930s by breaking down his imagination boundaries. He is portrayed here as a young bespectacled boy who has fantasies and visions of flying in the clouds with Mr. Caproni (Nomura Mansai), Italy’s aeronautical maestro.
We skip a few years to his early adulthood. He’s moved out of the villages and in to Tokyo where he gets a job as a junior flight engineer. His best friend is equally talented, but he lacks Jiro’s obsessive ambition. His boss is a rather stout man whose hair comes in two parts: Shaved, and bouncy. It’s an interesting combination. He looks very much like the pudgy-fingered boss in The Incredibles. He even wears similar colours and adopts a similar demeanour.
There is a sequence early in the movie that depicts a devastating earthquake. It destroys a lot of real estate and paves the way for a meet-cute between Jiro and a young girl whose name we only discover later on. She is Naoko Satomi (Miori Takimoto), a sweet girl whose ability to catch flying hats is easily incomparable. Her village is razed by the earthquake, and many years later she encounters Jiro again in their second meet-cute. This time they’re both older and more familiar with the concept of love at first — or second — sight, and wouldn’t you know it, they want to get married. Before they do, though, Naoko informs Jiro that she has tuberculosis.
As the movie began I expected it to be about planes and flight. But as it moved forward with its characters it started to weave the lives of Jiro and Naoko together. The story is as much about their love as it is about Jiro’s love for the air. He does, however, stumble too deep into his work, and there is a scene of him drawing diagrams in his bedroom — with his wife so close to his side — that poignantly highlights his emotional blindness. He is not the best man. He is the true man. And Naoko sees this.
There isn’t as much wonder and creativity in the narrative as we’re used to getting from Miyazaki’s movies, and this perhaps is why The Wind Rises isn’t as good as some of his earlier gems. Compared to giant smelly slugs, fish that become humans, and flying castles, this movie plays like a retirement package. Some segments overstay their welcome. He pushes hardest when Jiro dreams. At times it is hard to tell what’s real and what’s not.
What is most beautiful about this movie — and indeed about all of his movies — is the animation. The inch-perfect precision and silky smoothness of the animation. Miyazaki never fails to explore. His technique is old school; it is the same technique Disney used to give Snow White life. It is the same technique that wowed children — and many adults — throughout the ’50s, ’60s, ’70s, ’80’s and the early part of the ’90s, before CGI took over. What used to be mainstream is now the niche, and in this niche there is none better, none more graceful than Miyazaki. His films can be viewed without sound. They are gorgeous to look at. The pictures he paints are not explained with dialogue. They explain the dialogue. He creates magic time and time again. I haven’t seen all his films, but if this is to be his last, I can rest easy knowing he’s left behind a fountain of gold.
Best Moment | The insanely high quality of the animation from start to finish.
Worst Moment | Nope.