The second-best news concerning the latest (and likely last) animated feature from Japanese master Hayao Miyazaki (MY NEIGHBOR TOTORO, PRINCESS MONONOKE, SPIRITED AWAY) is that in many cities, you'll have to choice whether to see it in its original Japanese with subtitles or in an English dub with voices provided by the likes of Joseph Gordon Levitt, John Krasinski, Emily Blunt, Martin Short, Stanley Tucci, William H. Macy and even Werner Herzog. I haven't seen the English-language version, but since Disney gained the distribution rights to Miyazaki's films (both on home video and theatrically), its English dubs of his works are across-the-board great. (In case you were wondering, the best news concerning this film is that it exists.)
And while Miyazaki's works are often aimed at younger audiences, THE WIND RISES is probably going to be embraced by a slightly older crowd, primarily because it's more a Japanese history lesson, with only slight dalliances into a more fantastical world. Based on Miyazaki's own manga comic, the film profiles Jiro Horikoshi, the man who brought the modern age of flying to Japan by taking planes out of the era where they were built with wood, and introducing aerodynamics and streamlined designs. What might be a bit strange for American audiences is that, although the film emphasizes Jiro's love of flight and design, his creations went on to be some of Japan's best known war planes during World War II, including the notorious Japanese Zero Fighter.
The film certainly does its best to distract us from the wartime implications of Jiro's career by bathing his highly fictionalized biography in a love story and many major historical events that he lived through long before the war years. The girl of his dreams, Nahoko, whom he met when they were both quite young and then reunited with as young adults, has a lingering case of tuberculosis, but decides to spend as much time with Jiro as she can rather than live out her life in a hospital. The pair actually met after the Great Kanto earthquake of 1923, and the visuals of that event in the movie are as breathtaking as they are terrifying.
THE WIND RISES covers Jiro's college years, the Great Depression, and his lifelong role model, the Italian plane designer Caproni, who visits Jiro in his dreams and inspires him to continue his work. The dream sequences with the two are both wildly energetic and humorously touching, and they remind us in whose hands we are being carried through this journey. Jiro's story is also something of a testament to geeks everywhere, who long to be a part of something exciting. Because he has poor vision, Jiro can never be a pilot, so he designs these vessel of flight for others to enjoy. At one point late in the story, he makes the somewhat astonishing revelation that he's never even flown, which seems impossible for a man with his special skill set.
It's hardly worth mentioning that THE WIND RISES is an elegant, gorgeously rendered hand-drawn work because we'd expect nothing less. I've seen the film twice now, and there are times where I found my eyes drifting to the furthest corners of the frame, noticing some small detail or motion that would have been disposable background in any other film. But Miyazaki and his animators fill the screen with such unbelievable detail and color that you can barely believe your eyes, and find it even more difficult to conceive that animated films are still made this way.
If this is in fact, Miyazaki's final film, it's a stunning, mature work that reminds us that even people in fields that require a great deal of discipline and relentless study were inspired by something when they were younger to pursue a chosen line of work. It's a wonderful thing to remember, and THE WIND RISES is an exquisite example of art, history, science and dreams coming together to make something filled with inspiration.