Hayao Miyazaki is one of the most influential and admired filmmakers and a major figure in the Japanese cinematic landscape. His films have inspired moviegoers and colleagues around the world, including Pixar’s John Lasseter.
Miyazaki has directed eight feature films, including the Oscar-winning “Spirited Away” (2001), as well as “My Neighbor Totoro” (1988), “Howl’s Moving Castle” (2004) and “Ponyo” (2008), among others. His latest, “The Wind Rises,” marks his final film as his retirement plans were announced in 2013. It has earned itself an Academy Award nomination for Best Animated Film alongside, among others, Disney juggernaut “Frozen” – does Miyazaki’s last picture have a chance?
His films, produced under his Studio Ghibli company, have long been distributed by the Walt Disney Company for American audiences. Each one is re-dubbed using recognizable American actors. Disney describes “The Wind Rises” this way:
In “The Wind Rises,” Jiro (voice of Joseph Gordon-Levitt) dreams of flying and designing beautiful airplanes, inspired by the famous Italian aeronautical designer Caproni (voice of Stanley Tucci). Nearsighted and unable to be a pilot, he becomes one of the world’s most accomplished airplane designers, earning the respect of prominent industry greats, including Hattori (voice of Mandy Patinkin) and Kurokawa (voice of Martin Short), and experiencing key historical events in an epic tale of love, perseverance and the challenges of living and making choices in a turbulent world.
Typically Miyazaki’s films have some element of whimsy and “The Wind Rises” is no different. But this is the first of his that I would consider to be a straight drama. “The Wind Rises” may be the first biopic I’ve ever seen told via animation. I’d put it in the same category as “Walk the Line,” “Ray,” and “The Aviator.”
In a nutshell, it’s the life story of the engineer who designed the Japanese “Zero” used during World War II. Of course as an American, I brought my own bias and opinions into the film, but soon let all that go and realized this was the story of a man who just wanted to design great airplanes. I felt it glossed over some of the moral concerns he most certainly would have had, but maybe that’s my American viewpoint bleeding through again.
“The Wind Rises” is not for children. I made the mistake of bringing my 5-year-old nephew to the screening and felt a little uncomfortable as Jiro smoked on screen more times than I could count. We also witness events leading up to his wedding night – of course the camera pans away before anything serious happens. There’s death, despair, and regret throughout – definitely themes I wasn’t prepared for. I wonder if these elements were what caused the Disney company to release “The Wind Rises” under its Touchstone label, one I thought all but dead.
This year, “The Wind Rises” has been nominated for an Oscar, up against some stiff and not-so-stiff competition: “The Croods,” “Despicable Me 2,” “Ernest & Celestine,” and of course “Frozen.” I liked “The Wind Rises,” but have seen better biopics. And it doesn’t hold up to my favorite of Miyazaki’s, “Spirited Away.”
If I had to choose my pick for best feature animation of the year, and maybe I’m being a little too mainstream, but I’m going to give it to “Frozen.” “The Wind Rises” may be Miyazaki’s curtain call, but it’s not his best work and “Frozen” is simply a phenomenon worthy of the Academy’s recognition.
“Do you want to build a snowman?” So charming.
“The Wind Rises” flies into US theaters tomorrow, Friday, February 28.