The 2014 Academy Awards are just around the corner, and this year’s list of contenders for Best Animated Film include: The Croods, Despicable Me 2, Frozen, Ernest and Celestine, and The Wind Rises. After already claiming the BAFTA and Golden Globes, Disney’s Frozen seems poised to take the win, but after watching the 2-D masterpiece from Japan that is The Wind Rises, the Academy really needs to have their head examined if they give away the statue to any other film.
If you’re unfamiliar with Hayao Miyazaki’s and Studio Ghibli’s work, you’re not alone. In today’s heavily crowded market of CG animated cartoons and films, 2-D is quickly becoming a thing of the past. However for millions of people in Japan and across the globe, Miyazaki is considered something of an Animation God, and his Studio Ghibli has been putting out incredible work since the mid 1980’s. Some of their more famous titles include Castle in the Sky, Kiki’s Delivery Service, Princess Mononoke, Howl’s Moving Castle, and Spirited Away (which won the Academy Award for Best Animated Film back in 2002).
Sadly, Miyazaki announced that The Wind Rises would be his last feature. At 73 years old, he’s stated that it takes a lot longer for him to complete a film than it used to, and keeping up with a full production schedule can be exhausting. Usually the older a director gets the less relevant or interesting his or her work becomes. Not so with Miyazaki. Over the last decade his films have become even more widely received and well respected. It makes sense then that his last feature would be something truly incredible to behold, and it is.
The Wind Rises tells the fictionalized historical account of Jiro Horikoshi (voiced by Joseph Gordon-Levitt). His love of airplanes as a young boy eventually leads him to become a prominent aircraft designer, with his most important work taking shape in the famed Zero fighter of the 1940’s. Through imaginary conversations with his designing idol from Italy, Caproni (voiced by Stanley Tucci), Jiro learns to come to terms with his designs being used for something other than he intended over the years. With only a few close friends including fellow schoolmate and designer Honjo (voiced by John Krasinski), and his mildly annoying, but fiercely protective younger sister Kayo (voiced by Mae Whitman), Jiro’s work takes up much of his time. Even when he falls in love with Nahoko (voiced by Emily Blunt), a sweet young girl whose life he saved during a massive earthquake, Jiro finds it difficult to divide his time between who he loves and his love of work.
To call this strictly a children’s movie would be incorrect. In its 126-minute runtime, some of the more complex issues of the film deal with Japan’s struggle for aircraft technology, the Great Depression, and tuberculosis. But to dismiss it simply because the film strays from typical Hollywood feel would be a huge mistake.
The level of artistic design in this hand drawn film is staggering. Attention to detail in everything from a background Japanese forest, to a landscape painting, to the main character using a slide ruler are enough to make anyone sit up and take notice. The script (also penned by Miyazaki) is poignant, well crafted, and manages to walk the line between historical fact and personal truth. And because of this, there are levels of emotion in this film that you won’t find in any of the other nominated features this year.
The old belief in Hollywood is that moviegoers don’t like to read while sitting in front of a screen. But for anyone who’s ever seen a foreign film, then watched it’s English dubbed version, its clearly evident that something gets lost in the translation. The best example of this would be Miyazaki’s own Princess Mononoke. But even though The Wind Rises boast an all star voice cast that includes Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Emily Blunt, Martin Short, Stanley Tucci, and Mandy Patinkin, one can’t help but wonder if hearing the film in it’s original language would have a different effect.
Small things aside though, The Wind Rises is another stunning masterpiece of a film from Miyazaki. And if this truly is his last feature, it’s a grand way to go out.