Hayao Miyazaki's Last Movie: Dispatch from the Toronto Film Festival

09/16/2013 11:20 AM |

The Wind Rises movie Hayao Miyazaki

Where the Tavernier is all talk, the new Kelly Reichardt film Night Moves is about the tension of silence. Returning again to her home city, Portland, Oregon, the film is a tightly wound procedural about the planning, execution and aftermath of an ecoterrorist attack. Jesse Eisenberg, Peter Saarsgard and Dakota Fanning are the radicals trying to make a statement. With exacting detail, Reichardt depicts their process, from purchasing nitrate fertilizer to punching a hole in a dam. The team speaks in clipped dialogue, like in a 50s heist film, emotions and fears kept resolutely in check. Eisenberg is especially clenched and withholding, his every utterance seemingly choked out of him. Their operation works, until it doesn’t, and the wracked tension in Eisenberg’s face shifts from fear to paranoia. Their politics disappear in the face of self-preservation, revealing themselves to be less committed environmentalist activists than bored, self-involved anarchists. They are suitably doomed protagonists for the first sustainable-living-community noir.

I ended my Toronto Film Festival with Hayao Miyazaki’s The Wind Rises, his first feature since 2008’s Ponyo that he recently announced would also be his last. Culminating his life-long fascination with aviation, depicted most memorably in 1992’s Porco Rosso, his porcine pilot adventure, The Wind Rises is a stately animated biopic about Jiro Horikoshi, the Japanese engineer who designed the WWII Zero fighter planes. It is Miyzaki’s first film to be based in reality, and the visual scheme is relatively restrained because of it. The fragile pastel watercolors are beautiful, but I miss the fantastical eye-popping blues of Ponyo. Miyazaki has always excelled at normalizing the fantastic, as in My Neighbor Totoro, but here he has to fantasize the normal, and he seems uncomfortable—he inserts dream sequences to make up for this reversal. The film feels as grounded as Jiro, whose nearsightedness kept him from becoming a pilot.

Miyazaki is so invested in Jiro’s dreams that he only half-heartedly acknowledges the moral compromises in designing a killing machine. His films are usually rife with moral ambiguity, with sympathetic villains and compromised heroes, while here there is simple hagiography. Still, despite my reservations, there are moments of marvelous visual invention. The Tokyo earthquake scene is one of the most terrifying sequences in his oeuvre, the tectonic rips crackling across the screen like lightning and the city raining ash, as if the end of days were nigh. And unfortunately for the brilliant career of Hayao Miyazaki, they are.

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