Beautiful but boring. Every animated graphic in The Wind Rises (Japan, dubbed into English) is masterfully drawn but none of it entrances you into a coherent story, it never finds a clear focus for its subject. This is a surprise considering it is the announced final film of Hayao Miyazaki (“Spirited Away,” “Howl’s Moving Castle”) before he bows into retirement. There’s no doubt this is a passion project, but whatever themes and statements Miyazaki has will elude most audiences. In this fictional biopic, Jiro Horikoshi (voiced by Joseph Gordon-Levitt for the American release) is the fighter plane engineer who built planes for the kamikazes going into World War II. He devoted his life to planes because he loved planes, and jumped at the chance to build and design them without a thought of how they would be used in war.
This being a Japanese film inherent with touchy (and dicey) politics and passions, the discussion of kamikazes, or military industry, or Pearl Harbor, or anything connoting war or death is brushed under the rug, and I’d say, even the rug gets buried (to avoid controversy with Japanese censors, offensive material is hushed). As a result, this is as vague a film as one could fear. It’s so very pokey and meandering, but pondering when it comes to Jiro’s dreams of flying or seeing the planes he makes get flown. This is not a children’s film I will emphasize again, since many of them will be hopelessly lost. I, too, miss the whimsy of Miyasaki’s “Kiki’s Delivery Service,” “My Neighbor Totoro,” and his infallible masterpiece “Spirited Away.”
How about the images: Planes soaring above vanilla-tinged clouds, blowing tall-grass fields with serene perfection, an earthquake rumbling underneath old Japan cities, delicate snowfall done with equally serene perfection. All so beautiful, but with no rhythm. A troubled courtship with delicate Nahoko (Emily Blunt) and imaginary encounters with Italian aviator mentor Giovanni Caproni (Stanley Tucci), I suppose fill up the majority of screen time. Oh so delicate, and oh so awestruck – the former and latter. John Krasinski, Elijah Wood, Martin Short and Werner Herzog supply some of the other voices, but usually in this case, you care less and less about what specifically is being said than how it is being said or vocally nuanced by the actor.
Going into a Miyazaki film, the affiliated and unaffiliated hope to gain knowledge and appreciation into the master of Japanese animation. This being his supposed final film, one hopes a deeper comprehension and matching appreciation unlike anything before. But “The Wind Rises” doesn’t gain narrative (nor insight), it strays and strays. In my mind, I was done with it before it was half over. But I sat there insufferably until the end credits nonetheless.
126 Minutes. Rated PG-13.
ANIMATION / ADULT ORIENTATION / WEEKEND FOOD FOR THOUGHT
Film Cousins: “Castle in the Sky” (1986, Japan); “Grave of the Fireflies” (1988, Japan); “Spirited Away” (2002, Japan); “Howl’s Moving Castle” (2005, Japan).