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Miyazaki produces another great animated film in 'The Wind Rises'

By Jingyuan Fu
On February 24, 2014

Once directors reach a certain point of fame, they have a tendency of overshadowing their own work. This is especially prevalent among auteurs such as Tim Burton and Quentin Tarantino, both of whom possess flamboyant styles that overpower any story that they are trying to tell. Animated movies, being more cooperative efforts by nature, are less likely to fall prey to this trend, but the new Studio Ghibli film "The Wind Rises" seems to be the exception.
The reason for this is of course Hayao Miyazaki, Studio Ghibli's founder and a well-loved celebrity in his own right. The announcement that he was seriously considering retirement was given significant attention in both Japanese and American media and since "The Wind Rises" may be his last movie, it was quickly hailed as Miyazaki's swan song and received a lot of hype.
Does the movie itself live up to the acclaim it has received, however? The answer is quite a mixed bag. "The Wind Rises" is a noted departure from the fantasy of most Studio Ghibli films as it centers on a historical subject. The difference is quite striking, even with the added dream sequences, as is the movie's more muted color palette. Though all of Miyazaki's movies carry a very serious undercurrent, never has such solemnity been so prominent before.
This tonal shift is quite understandable when one considers the plot of the film, which is about Jiro Horikoshi, the Japanese inventor of the famous Zero airplane. Born with an incredible urge to fly, Hirokoshi was hampered by his terrible eyesight, which automatically eliminated any chances of becoming a pilot. With the help of a dream mentor, he then began to study aircraft design and, despite numerous setbacks and limitations, eventually achieved his goal. This success is colored by disillusionment, however, as the Zero aircraft eventually becomes an instrument for death during World War II.
A story on innovation and the beauty of flight that has nuanced moral implications seems to be a perfect send-off for Miyazaki, but occasionally the movie falls short. The strongest aspects of "The Wind Rises" are also the parts that stick closest to the real story; unfortunately, Miyazaki felt that it was necessary to cloud the movie inventions that ultimately do not gel well with the overall story. The most egregious of these has to be the tacked-on romantic subplot, which meanders pointlessly around the original character Naoko. Ghibli is well-known for creating relatable and dynamic female characters, but unfortunately Naoko-whose sole object seems to be dying stoically-cannot be counted as one of them.
Though it never quite reaches the heights of pathos and intellectual clarity that Miyazaki undoubtedly wanted, "The Wind Rises" is still a polished, stylized film. It may not have been the best swan song for the artist responsible for "Spirited Away," but it does embody a major part of Studio Ghibli's vision for animation. If this is indeed Miyazaki's last film (the man has come out of retirement multiple times in the past), he will be missed.

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