Take a Drink: for each new language you hear
Take a Drink: for each new fantastical (but real) aircraft you see
Take a Drink: for dreams
Take a Drink: if they are apocalyptic visions
Take a Drink: for smoking
Take a Drink: for nice catchees
Take a Drink: whenever you spot an Axis uniform
Do a Shot: for adult tragedy
By: Henry J. Fromage (Two Beers) –
The past year has been full of stories about the end of Japanese animation legend Hayao Miyazaki’s career, and the potential end of Studio Ghibli, which he was instrumental in creating. While there has been a bit of seesawing on the latter (and there’s several talented filmmakers on the roster who could carry the mantle, making it hard to believe), it’s becoming increasingly likely that last year’s The Wind Rises will be the final feature film that Miyazaki directs.
The Wind Rises is a heavily fantasized look at the life of Japanese aircraft designer Jiro Horikoshi, “who just wanted to make something beautiful.”
“-ly murderous” seems to have been cropped out.
This is billed as, and certainly feels like Miyazaki’s magnum opus, and it’s certainly a fitting career capper. He’s shown a fascination for flight and flying things throughout his career, from the WWI flyers of Porco Rosso to Laputa: Castle in the Sky, and even Studio Ghibli itself is named after an Italian scout plane. It’s not just the subject matter, but the emotions and themes that make this feel like one of Miyazaki’s most personal works. Horikoshi’s only dream is to create something that flies, an object of beauty and utility that would not have existed without his efforts. Miyazaki obviously feels a kinship with this, but also examines it critically, especially how time and power structures, be they political, financial, or military, can co-opt and twist these dreams to their own purposes.
Miyazaki’s after more than that, though. This is a startlingly adult film from the guy who brought us Totoro and Ponyo. We see the ups and downs of not just Horikoshi’s life, but of turn of the century Japan, from the devastating Great Kanto Earthquake and Fire of 1923 to the onset of the Great Depression, which forget was a worldwide phenomenon. Horikoshi’s romance with the sickly Nahoko also dovetails with the overarching themes of ethereal beauty and its corruption, of optimism and loss.
Technically-speaking, this is as well-animated as anything Miyazaki’s done, and it’s still very much in his style, be it the epic and frightening earthquake sequence or the many gorgeous daydreams and flights of fancy that bring his trademark fantastical touch to, and comment upon the real story. Also, I’d be remiss not to mention Joe Hisaishi’s evocative and perfectly complimentary score.
There’s an elephant in the room, and it’s named Zero.
Dumbo, if he was a brilliantly designed and viciously effective bringer of death.
There’s no way to avoid that Horikoshi was the mind behind one of the most potent symbols of Japanese Imperialism, but I have to credit Miyazaki for not trying to avoid that. I think he has very cogent points about the perversion of pure vision, but he makes them poorly at times. “Would you rather live in a world with or without the pyramids?” is a pretty loaded question. The slaves that built them possibly would have a different answer to that one. Also, stating that you aren’t designing aircraft for war would be more effective if you haven’t literally just finished doing the opposite.
The Wind Rises is Hayao Miyazaki’s most adult, most overtly nostalgic and in some ways arguably most beautiful film. A fitting end to an all-time great career.