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Final Flight of Fancy

MOVIE REVIEW
The Wind Rises (2013)

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© 2013 二馬力・GNDHDDTK

Hayao Miyazaki’s final film before retirement (heard that one before with “Ponyo” — glad it wasn’t true then, hope it isn’t true now), “The Wind Rises” is perhaps the legendary animator’s most adult film ever. Since maturity and wisdom are a given in his anime even when aimed for children, we say adult because the new film is based on history and biographies for a change. “The Wind Rises” is a fictionalized account of the life of Jiro Horikoshi, the engineer who designed many of Japan’s World War II fighters. The result is part Studio Ghibli fantasy and part Yasujiro Ozu melodrama about life in Imperial Japan leading up to the Second World War.

The film has been under attack by Japanese conservatives for its antiwar message. Mr. Miyazaki’s stance has actually never waivered (“Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind” and “Princess Mononoke” immediately come to mind), but apparently the Japanese neocons find historical facts far more nagging than allegories with mutant insects and giant wolves. But a leftist cynic can easily interpret “The Wind Rises” as merely a marvel at the beauty and a lament on the wreckage of aircraft, given that it’s evidently an object of Mr. Miyazaki’s fascination (“Porco Russo” — also Studio Ghibli itself is named after the Caproni Ca.309 Ghibli aircraft used during World War II). The ones in dream sequences notwithstanding, airplanes comprise possibly the most historically accurate aspect of the film.

“The Wind Rises” is otherwise a bit of a mess as a historical document, even if its depiction of Tokyo during the 1923 Great Kanto earthquake and its passing mention of Imperial Japan’s secret police are of great interest. It’s curious to see just where and how “The Wind Rises” actually veers from reality: The dream sequences with Giovanni Battista Caproni (yes, whose namesake company manufactured the Ghiblis) serving as Horikoshi’s inspiration and spiritual mentor — the only semblance of standard Studio Ghibli fantasy fare here — seem to have some grounding in reality based on a fact check conducted in this reviewer’s very limited Japanese. The sappy star-crossed romance — complete with terminal illness — though, is another biography altogether, drawn from poet Tatsuo Hori’s eponymous novel loosely based on his own life (which was adapted for live-action films in 1954 and 1976).

Ultimately, “The Wind Rises” will mean the most to fans who’ve grown up watching Mr. Miyazaki’s work. Think of it as your graduation present.

THE WIND RISES

Opens on Nov. 8 in New York and Los Angeles.

Written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki, based on an original graphic novel published in Monthly Model Graphix; supervising animator, Kitaro Kosaka; edited by Takeshi Seyama; music by Joe Hisaishi, with the theme song “Hikoki Gumo,” music and lyrics by Yumi Arai, performed by Ms. Arai; art direction by Yoji Takeshige; produced by Toshio Suzuki; released by Studio Ghibli and Touchstone Pictures. In Japanese, with English subtitles. Running time: 2 hours 6 minutes. This film is not rated.

WITH THE VOICES OF: Hideaki Anno, Miori Takimoto, Hidetoshi Nishijima, Masahiko Nishimura, Stephen Alpert, Morio Kazama, Keiko Takeshita, Mirai Shida, Jun Kunimura, Shinobu Otake and Mansai Nomura.

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