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Film review: The Wind Rises Print E-mail
Written by Ivan Radford   
Friday, 09 May 2014 13:25

Director: Hayao Miyazaki
Cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, John Krasinski, Emily Blunt
Certificate: PG

The Castle of Cagliostro. Porco Rosso. Howl's Moving Castle. It's no secret that Hayao Miyazaki really loves his planes. The Wind Rises, then, a fictionalised biopic of aviator Jirô Horikoshi, is a fitting final film from the director. It may not be his own life story, but it's certainly his most personal movie to date.

"Artists are only active for 10 years." That's Caproni, Jiro's Italian aviation inspiration, who appears regularly to the young designer in vivid dream sequences. These literal flights of fancy aside, The Wind Rises is notable for its down-to-earth realism compared to many other Studio Ghibli adventures. Earthquakes, heartbreak and poverty all make an appearance - a far cry from the Catbus of Totoro.

Jiro, though, is unmistakeably a Hayao hero. Called up to make planes for the military, he finds himself in moral dilemma. Like Howl's Moving Castle, wanting to show off airborne conflict while condemning armies, the young engineer is caught in the director's usual struggle between good and bad, pacifism and conflict, humans and nature. It is fitting that his plans involve the Mitsubishi A6M Zero fighter, an agile bird-like sliver of silver designed to glide not drop bombs on civilians.

Competing with his ambitious friend, who has no qualms about mounting weapons on his wings, we also follow his attempts to woo Nahoko Satomi, a girl he encounters on a train. The events stretch decades of Horikoshi's life, not writ large on a kids tapestry but painted across a sweeping palette, like an epic drawn by David Lean. It's a beautiful reminder that animation is a form, rather than a genre; Disney wouldn't have the balls to make this.

It's not a completely smooth ride. The romance doesn't always work thanks to the movie's unabashed sentimentality and on-the-nose dialogue, but that's a quality that has always defined the maestro's work; an earnestness to embrace childlike imagination. That same creativity is what you presume ties Miyazaki to his protagonist. The 126-minute runtime is peppered with stunning moments that see Jiro's designs spring into the sky, detailed etchings given colour and life. Lifted by Joe Hisaishi's music, they soar as high as anything Ghibli has done.

The flight is occasionally brought back down to earth by the slightly wonky narrative, dictated by history more than Hayao's literary adaptations (this is based on his own manga about Horikoshi). That misshapen quality only makes the project feel more personal, though. The craft lacks the polished perfection of Spirited Away but has something honest that slips through the cracks in the fuselage: a glimpse of a young Miyazaki scribbling furiously as he pictures his drawings leap off the page.

"Artists are only active for 10 years," Caproni tells the young boy. "Make the most of them."

Hayao certainly has. Five times over.