Wednesday, September 18, 2013

NY Film Festival: The Wind Rises

Hayao Miyazaki's latest animated film, The Wind Rises (Kaze Tachinu) tells the story of the formative years of fictional character Jiro Horikoshi, who develops the airplane that would become key to the Japanese war effort in World War II. In one of the film's many dreams, in which Horikoshi converses with his mentor, the Italian flying pioneer Giovanni Caproni, the Japanese engineer bewails the fact that "none of the planes ever came back." Indeed! Horikoshi's sleek, powerful invention was used by Imperial Japan during the last years of the war for the infamous Kamizake suicide attacks on Allied vessels in the Pacific.  The Italian aviation giant had, in a previous dream, reminded Horikoshi that "airplanes are beautiful dreams" and had warned him against their use in warfare. Caproni's warning together with Jiro's sad realization is one of the great, poignant moments in this amazing film.

In what might be his last anime (Mr. Miyazaki has announced that he is retiring from film), the director has hit a political vein in his country. He has publicly opposed Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's current plan to rebuild his country's military, and when the film opens in the United States, it is certain to strike a vein in our collective view of the role Japan played in the war before its final defeat in 1945.

Japan churns out computer animated anime by the hundreds each year, but a film by Miyazaki has always been the product of traditional animation. Even though he used digital paint in Princess Mononoke (1997), the computer animated department of Studio Ghibli, the animation studio he founded in 1985, was dissolved in 2008. The art work in The Wind Rises, with its gentle, soft images and hand-drawn characters is like fine calligraphy, and represents another great milestone in the career of one of Japan's great filmmakers.

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