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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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