The great Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki (Spirited Away, My Neighbor Totoro, Ponyo) announced his retirement from feature filmmaking last year — although not for the first time — at the age of 72.
His latest film, the Oscar-nominated The Wind Rises, might well be his last. It’s something of a departure for him: a multi-decade epic aimed at an older audience and mostly, except for a few dream sequences, dwelling in the world of reality. And while it’s not quite as magical as some of his previous films, it makes a fitting and often moving farewell.
The Wind Rises is a fictionalized biography of a real person: Jiro Horikoshi, a Japanese engineer who designed a number of fighter planes, including one used widely during World War II. But Miyazaki doesn’t dwell much on the carnage caused by this invention — although his Jiro is clearly troubled by it — instead focusing more on a young man who dreamed of flying and grew up to learn that “engineers turn dreams into reality.”
In his dreams he meets his idol, Italian aviation designer Gianni Caproni, and together they fly over idyllic landscapes; in reality, he survives a terrible earthquake, goes to college, falls in love with a childlike young woman dying of tuberculosis — and still dreams of riding the wind.
The story, particularly Jiro’s ill-fated romance, isn’t always compelling, although I can’t speak to what the all-star English-language voice cast might bring. (I viewed the film in the original Japanese, with English subtitles; local theaters will be alternating both versions.) But oh, those pictures.
Miyazaki, who in an age of computer animation still hand-draws almost every line, is a master of skies: His clouds, ever shifting, look like you could scoop them up; his twilights dance in orange and purple; his overcast days are a muted rainbow of yellows and tans; his bright mornings are the kind of blue you can happily get lost in. On land, The Wind Rises is just as mesmerizing: Cigarette smoke forms a gliding fog around the characters; a sea of pink and lavender cherry blossoms lets us smell their perfume.
I hope Miyazaki, despite his announcement, has another film or two in store; but if not, this one has plentiful pleasures.
Voices: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, John Krakinski, Emily Blunt, Martin Short, Stanley Tucci, Mandy Patinkin, Werner Herzog.
Writer-director: Hayao Miyazaki.
Producer: Toshio Suzuki.
A Walt Disney Pictures release. Running time: 126 minutes. Disturbing wartime images. Playing at area theaters.