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Movie Review: The Wind Rises

Miyazaki soars in ‘The Wind Rises’ (Our grade: A-)
The Wind Rises
Running Time: 126 min
MPAA rating: PG-13
Release Date: 2014-02-14
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By "Jane Sumner Special to the American-Statesman"
Austin360.com | Austin American-Statesman

From “Castle in the Sky” (1986) to “Howl’s Moving Castle” (2004), Hayao Miyazaki has made magical films about flying. But with his wondrous, Oscar-nominated and highly personal “The Wind Rises,” the anime master soars like a red-crested crane.

Three years ago, when he began the storyboards for this, his 11th animated feature, Miyazaki said he wanted to create “a realistic, fantastic, at times caricatured, but as a whole, a beautiful film.”

And with this spellbinding, dreamy paean to imagination, flight and living large despite adversity, the 73-year-old writer-director, who changed the way we think about anime and his homeland, fulfills his wish.

“The Wind Rises,” adapted from Miyazaki’s own manga and a novelette by Tatsuo Hori, a writer and translator of French poetry, takes its title from a line in a Paul Valery poem: “The wind is rising! We must try to live.”

For the first time in a Studio Ghibli animated feature, the characters are modeled on real people, though their lives are fictionalized. And instead of the usual three- or four-day narrative, the action takes place over 30 years,

Miyazaki’s script merges aeronautical engineer Jiro Horikoshi, who designed the Mitsubishi A6M1, later to become the Navy Type O Carrier Fighter better known as the Zero, and Tatsuo Hori into the film’s kind but bold and brave central character.

Miyazaki is known for his independent, curious and courageous heroines, but his protagonist here is bookish Jiro, who bears a startling resemblance to Harry Potter, for Hori, too, wore round, black-frame glasses.

Voiced in the English dubbed version by Zach Callison, young Jiro is a country boy growing up in Japan’s tumultuous Taisho Era (1912-1926). If times were tough, the director has said, skies were clear, water was clean and the countryside free of litter, so he paints the landscapes below floating dream scenes as beguiling and green.

Too near-sighted to make pilot, Jiro dreams of flying, and across time and space invades the reverie of pioneer Italian aeronautical engineer Giovanni Battista Caproni (Stanley Tucci), who acts as life coach for the young Japanese.

Count Caproni, whose company manufactured bombers in World War I and II, tells him building planes is better than flying them, that aircraft will be used for slaughter and artists are only creative for about 10 years. He also poses the filmmaker’s question: “Are you living your years to the full?”

On his way to the university to study engineering, grown-up Jiro (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) meets cheery artist Nahoko (Emily Blunt), traveling with her maid when the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 erupts and stops the train.

Using his slide rule as a splint, Jiro dresses the maid’s broken leg, goes for help, then hurries off without telling Nahoko his name. Ten years later, they will meet cute, fall in love and, despite her worsening tuberculosis, wed.

Meanwhile, Jiro and college friend and fellow engineer Honjo (John Krasinski) join Mitsubishi where, after repeated failures and a grim trip to Germany’s Junker plant, he is made chief engineer for a naval fighter plane competition.

In a way, Jiro is the story of Miyazaki himself. Born in 1941, he grew up in an aviation family. His father was a director of the family firm that manufactured parts for Zero fighters. His mother, said to be the inspiration for his strong female characters, suffered from spinal tuberculosis and spent years in the hospital.

A pacifist and war protester who loves planes, Miyazaki doesn’t shrink from showing life’s shadows and won’t draw the Hollywood endings of his distributor Disney. He announced this film would be his last, then changed his mind.

At home, he understandably has taken heat for celebrating the life of a designer of death-dealing war machines that used Chinese and Korean slave labor to build and for scenes that show young characters chain-smoking. Released last year in Japan, it was the top-grossing film in the nation.

To get the full Miyazaki effect, the Japanese language version with English subtitles is best. In the English dub cast, listen for Martin Short as Jiro’s grumpy boss, Mandy Patinkin as senior designer, William H. Macy as Nahoko’s father, Jennifer Grey as his boss’s wife, Werner Herzog as a mysterious German guest at the hotel and Elijah Wood as Jiro’s engineering colleague Sone.

“The Wind Rises” is a glorious, affecting film, leavened with anti-war messages, cultural homages and Miyazaki’s love of the Zero. Unlike Japan’s Great Depression, the carnage of World War II is barely referenced. If only Jiro’s fighter was a Spitfire, the plane that helped save Western civilization.

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February 27, 2014 - Austin360.com | Austin American-Statesman - Jane Sumner Special to the American-Statesman

From “Castle in the Sky” (1986) to “Howl’s Moving Castle” (2004), Hayao Miyazaki has made magical films about flying. But with his wondrous, Oscar-nominated and highly personal “The Wind Rises,” the anime master soars like a red-crested crane.

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