Three undeniable auteurs have movies out this weekend. The one of most concern to film buffs is animation maestro Hayao Miyazaki, whose The Wind Rises gets a proper (if limited) release following a one-week awards-qualifying run in late 2013. (The qualifying worked: it’s up for the Best Animated Feature Oscar.) Miyazaki claimed at some point that Rises would be his last movie, and if it’s not exactly a culmination of his past films (of which I’ve only seen some), it’s a convincing finale in the way it engages with a man’s life work.
By Miyazaki standards, the film is straightforward: a biography of plane designer Jiro Horikoshi. But The Wind Rises doesn’t limit Miyazaki’s imagination. He finds great beauty in his more grounded imagery, like the recurring image of fiery bits streaking the sky, and brings flights of fancy into Horikoshi’s subconscious, depicting dreamed conversations with his airplane-design hero, Giovanni Caproni, as they walk together on the wings of planes. Animation depicts flight—something live action counterparts still struggle to render either realistically or magically—particularly well, and these scenes have a lyrical, graceful quality. Actually, its lyrical qualities work best without actual lyrics; the film soars highest during its wordless passages. Its dialogue (at least in subtitled form) is sometimes awkwardly declamatory and paired with restrained, sometimes borderline sleepy vocal performances.
A greater issue for some audiences, though, will be the fact that Horikoshi designed airplanes used for acts of violence in WWII. The movie engages with this contradiction between the desire to create and creation’s ability to destroy, but only glancingly, with lines of dialogue like “airplanes are not tools for now” and “airplanes are beautiful dreams.” It’s a weirdly idealistic, maybe even simplistic bit of compartmentalization, and one that might recede into the background (or take fascinating center stage) if Jiro as a character had a little more life beyond his love of planes. The Wind Rises is lovely, but there’s a formal remoteness to it—I often felt like I was a wing’s length away from the action.