Miyazaki’s beautiful ‘The Wind Rises’ never really takes flight

Miyazaki explores the beauty of flight in The Wind Rises.
Jeffrey M. Anderson

Three stars

The Wind Rises Voices of Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Emily Blunt, John Krasinski. Directed by Hayao Miyazaki. Rated PG-13. Opens Friday.

Perhaps the world’s greatest living animator, Hayao Miyazaki has hinted at his retirement at age 73, and now offers the world one final film, The Wind Rises. It showcases him at the height of his powers, in tune with nature’s rhythms, depicting earthquakes, weather and gusts of wind with a powerfully organic feel; certain audio effects almost sound human.

Last year, the movie was shown to critics and Academy voters in its original Japanese, and it received many accolades, including an Oscar nomination for Best Animated Feature. Now the English-language version, supervised by Disney, has arrived in theaters.

Overall, it’s Miyazaki’s most troubling film. It tells the story of Jiro Horikoshi, a famous Japanese aviation engineer. In essence, audiences are asked to root for him to build his perfect plane, the “zero fighter,” which will be used in World War II against the United States. Miyazaki paints his hero as an artist—obsessed with weight and airflow and curves—and a pacifist. But the glaring facts remain.

The English-speaking voices of Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Emily Blunt, John Krasinski, Martin Short, Werner Herzog, William H. Macy and Stanley Tucci might have softened this ill effect, but they do not. Worse, the translated dialogue now sounds like turgid melodrama, soapy and pained.

Certainly there’s nothing here for kids. The movie is a typical biopic, making huge leaps to smash an entire life story into two hours. The result is, as usual, a succession of highlights with little depth. When Jiro takes time off from work to spend with his deathly ill beloved, Naoko Satomi, it feels more like a distraction than a connection.

Miyazaki’s greatest works, like My Neighbor Totoro and Spirited Away, embrace the enchanting and the magical. The Wind Rises occasionally reverts to dream sequences in which Jiro meets Italian aircraft designer Giovanni Battista Caproni. But even these seem a bit too literal.

Miyazaki is a plane nut, and he clearly made this film as a labor of love. But his greatest plane movie is the underrated Porco Rosso (1992), which not only incorporates imaginative fantasy elements into its narrative, but also includes breathtaking representations of planes in flight. The Wind Rises, sadly, takes place mostly on the ground.

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