“An artist is only creative for ten years,” says the famous Italian aircraft engineer Giovanni Caproni to the protagonist, Jiro, of 73-year-old Hayao Miyazaki’s final feature-length animated film “The Wind Rises”.
With 40 years of experience under his belt, it’s impossible to avoid the interpretation that Miyazaki is expressing some self-reflection here. “Live your ten years to the full,” Caproni advises in another pang of self-deprecating resignation through dialogue, but there’s an elephant in the room, a sense of unspoken irony. Having brought the world the delightful “Kiki’s Delivery Service,” along with the adventurous “Spirited Away,” the magical “Howl’s Moving Castle,” and the charming “Ponyo,” among others, Miyazaki himself boldly defies Caproni’s suggestion.
The list of his excellent achievements goes on, too, and “The Wind Rises” is no exception. While it is probably not his magnum opus (see: Spirited Away), “Rises” takes Miyazaki’s trademark gorgeous animation to new heights.
There are glimpses of stunning beauty scattered throughout the film. Gentle snow drifts slowly onto an expansive field, shooting stars twinkle for sibling spectators relaxing on a roof, a sparkling sea surface rumbles and undulates under a warship. In a few montages, muted crowds unload from a train arriving at a station, perhaps returning to a pinnacle of early cinema: the Lumière brother’s “The Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat Station.” Miyazaki breathes life into this piece of classic cinema — innovating film and proving its magic lasts — over a century after this similar scene was shown in early theatres.
Unlike most of his previous work, this film is aimed at adults. It’s based on the true story of the life of Jiro Horikoshi, chronicling events of his life, including the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923, The Great Depression, Japan’s role in the war, his invention of Japanese fighter planes for WWII, and emotional events of his personal life. The film pays homage to the “little things” by showcasing the gorgeousness of a very big thing: nature. This is reflected in Jiro’s ambitions and vision. He admires Germany’s massive, war-purpose-serving metal planes, but can’t shake his affinity for Japan’s dated technology that works with the natural: wood and canvas. He’d clearly rather design airplanes that carry people around the world and help them experience the wonder of our planet than ones that act as aggressive bomb-toting war machines.
The outrageously quirky characters and snappy jokes that sprinkle Miyazaki’s other masterpieces are replaced with subtle running jokes and understated character development that cater to an adult audience, whose fine-tuned attention to detail should facilitate appreciation for these smaller-scale quips of amusement. Howl’s Moving Castle’s fiery Calcifer is swapped with a grumpy, strict engineer boss. There is no peculiar delivery-service-running witch like Kiki or enchanted flower-shop employee Sophie from Howl’s Moving Castle, there is instead a very real boy with a very real aspiration.
“Rises” is a love story. It’s a depiction of an important period of Japanese and world history. It’s a tale of actualizing dreams and a testament to the gravity and capability of the individual. If you want the kiddie version of the retelling of this thematic lesson, buy a ticket to The Lego Movie instead. If you’re interested in a mature, pleasant, delightful, capstone animation feature, a product of a long career of incredible home-runs, look no further.