If ‘The Wind Rises’ really is the swansong of 73-year-old Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki (‘Spirited Away’, ‘My Neighbour Totoro’), it’s both a fitting and an uneasy one. On the surface, it’s a loose biopic of Jiro Horikoshi, inventor of the Mitsubishi A6M Zero fighter plane – tracing his journey from daydreaming boy to unwitting cog in the Japanese 1940s war machine.
Yet there’s autobiography here too: in showing us a maverick genius in single-minded pursuit of his art, the film validates Miyazaki’s independent path taken outside Japan’s corporate culture. The fact that these planes were used to devastating effect by the Japanese navy during WWII is skated over (causing controversy in Japan).
Politics aside, ‘The Wind Rises’ caps Miyazaki’s career with the most glorious animation yet produced by Studio Ghibli. Practically every frame is exquisitely detailed, while an earthquake sequence is a knockout. The real-life Horikoshi defended his inventions by claiming that he ‘just wanted to make something beautiful’. Now, with this ravishing film, the veteran animator has succeeded in doing the same.
Which is just as well, because otherwise the film offers little comfort to many Miyazaki fans. In place of cuddly critters and zany fantasy set pieces, we’re given disasters, bombs and melancholy.
What ‘The Wind Rises’ shares with Miyazaki’s other films is a preoccupation with ageing and the loss of innocence. It’s a dark, disturbing, deeply moving full stop to a glittering career.