Stealth bombers, abstracted from their purpose, are aesthetically beautiful constructions. But appreciating this without considering their function has certain psychic consequences. The hero of Hayao Miyazaki's final film, now opening with an English-language soundtrack, designs an airplane for the sake of beauty, though he knows it will be used to destroy cities. It's a highly fictional account of the life of Jiro Horikoshi, who designed the Mitsubishi A6M Zero fighter aircraft. In a childhood dream, Jiro is approached by Italian aeronautical engineer Giovanni Caproni, who walks with him on the wings of a preposterous old triplane in flight. "Are you living your years to the full?" Caproni asks. Jiro wakes up determined to become an engineer. Miyazaki, too, is fully living his years: This is no fading talent with his best work behind him; the characters are singular and closely observed, and the animation is rooted in naturalistic human movement and gesture. The film is gorgeous. The adult Jiro's inspired designs for individual plane components soar off the page in cross-hatched pencil. Oblivious to office politics or current events, he exhibits autism-like hyperfocus on mathematics and engineering, improving on the designs of the temperamental but benevolent head engineer (Martin Short). Captivated by the curve of a fish bone, Jiro incorporates its arc into his design. The war rumbles over a distant horizon the myopic engineer can't see. Like most of Miyazaki's films, The Wind Rises
has no primary villain or Manichaean struggle; though Jiro is bound for loss and sadness, asking a director known for his embrace of ambiguity to make a blunt, declarative political coda seems a little artless.
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The Wind Rises, Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki's final directorial feature, is an emotionally generous and expansively detailed romantic fantasy. Based on Kaze Tachinu, Miyazaki's manga biography of WWII airplane engineer Jiro Horikoshi, The Wind Rises' apolitical, dreamlike drama valorizes Horikoshi as a dreamer who remains optimistic during wartime. As a...