The world lamented when director Hayao Miyazaki revealed that The Wind Rises, (Kaze Tachinu,) was to be his last feature-length film. Over the decades, the man has produced some of the most memorable animated experiences, from the high-flying adventure Laputa: Castle in the Sky, the medieval epic Princess Mononoke, to the charming and cuddly My Neighbor Totoro. In comparison to these classics, The Wind Rises is, as much as it pains me to say it, far less memorable. Part of the problem may have to do with Miyazaki San's claim that he has "reached his limit" and is out of creative ideas; a second, and more plausible, reason is the source material. The Wind Rises is Studio Ghibli's first biographical film. Basically, this two hour animated film is the more-or-less truthful account of Jiro Horikoshi, Japanese aircraft designer who brought to life the infamous Mitsubishi A6M Zero, a war plane responsible for the deaths of thousands during World War II. You might be scratching your head by now: "why make a movie about this guy? That doesn't sound interesting." And the truth is, Jiro's life was not very interesting, though Miyazaki tried extremely hard to bring the wide-eyed wonder of Jiro's creative struggle and the devastation of the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 to life. From the material he was given, Miyazaki succeeds. However, like many biopic films before, this film does not have a powerful story arc, and seemed more like a series of events, which is how true-stories often play out. Even more frustrating is Miyazaki's decision to incorporate his trademark nature-vs.-war message, (best seen in Princess Mononoke,) into The Wind Rises. The result was a weaker film with a conflicted message; one one hand, Jiro Horikoshi wanted to be the greatest aircraft designer of his age, but on the other hand, he was warned numerous times by his hallucinatory-mentor Caproni that airplanes, as beautiful as they may be, will eventually be used for war and bloodshed. Jiro's painstaking effort to make his architectural dream a reality seemed a bit unscrupulous and unwise. The film's tone was not particularly devastating or serious, and the actual war often referenced was never shown. I also had a big problem with Jiro himself as a character. Again, I hate to say this, as Miyazaki is one of my favorite filmmakers, but the main character's actions, intentions, and personality was a bit... robotic. Even characters in the movie laughed when the man got married, as they thought that he loved airplanes so much he was going to marry one. Now, I did not mind the detailed technical descriptions of the planes, particularly the clever cross-section method Miyazaki used to show audiences the internal guts and framework of the vehicles; in many ways, this anime reminded me of The Right Stuff, which went in-depth into the creation of the X-1 and Mercury spacecrafts during the Space Race. The film, while being the highest-grossing title of 2013 in Japan, received harsh criticism from local critics for being un-Japanese and unpatriotic; all these claims are totally justifiable, as numerous characters repeatedly bash Japan for being backwards, simultaneously praising the technical achievements of the German Nazis. As an American, this kinda rubbed me the wrong way.
Finally, the ending was a bit odd. I did like the airplane graveyard Jiro sees in a dream, where the wrecked frames of planes litter the once-beautiful meadow, and the memories of the planes go into the sky, very similar to that one unearthly sequence in Porco Rosso. However, I was put off when Jiro's wife ***spoiler*** dies in a very subtle manner. She does say a few farewell words but then she just... fades. (She did not go to heaven, but the planes did?!?) Planes are great, but they should not be viewed higher than fellow human beings. If Jiro felt any bit of remorse for his actions, they were not apparent to me. Like a robot, he was just doing what he was programmed to do: make beautiful airplanes. On the good side, The Wind Rises had some awesome animation, as typical with all Ghibli works. In fact, if airplanes are your thing, than this had THE best animation, outdoing the flying scenes in both Laputa and Porco Rosso; the level of skill and patience these artists put into recreating every nut and bolt on these historical flying machines was commendable. I also enjoyed the humanization of the machines, where engine sputters, piston explosions, and propeller hums seemed to be performed by human voices; this added a retro quality to the film because such sound effects were done by people in old movies. The dream sequences between Hiro and legendary Italian designer Caproni were brilliant, and these remained my favorite scenes in the entire film. They were whimsical, impossible to achieve in live action, and classic Hayao Oh-My-God-That's-Clever-Miyazaki. Overall, I give this film 3 out of 5 stars, as it is perhaps Hayao Miyazaki's weakest effort, but as a film it is pretty good, if a bit technical, and leans on the unemotional and technical. I am a bit worried how Studio Ghibli will fare without the master, and the fact that his last work was less than stellar. Hopefully, Hayao Miyazaki will still work in the studio to assist the upcoming rising anime stars Goro Miyazaki and Hiromasa Yonebayashi.