After a string of deliriously tall-tale epics (Spirited Away, Howl’s Moving Castle), 72-year-old Japanese animation master Hayao Miyazaki shifts gears with this historical biopic about interwar aviation engineer Jiro Horikoshi (Hideaki Anno). Saddled with eyesight too poor for piloting, the visionary becomes a designer in the mold of Italian trailblazer Giovanni Caproni, who appears to our hero in a series of fantastical, prophetic dreams. From engineering school in the 1920s to high-stakes assignments for Mitsubishi and the pre-WWII military, Jiro is driven by simplicity and toward his beautiful, TB-battling future bride, Naoko (Miori Takimoto).
Whenever Jiro’s brainstorming about aerodynamics and sending winged prototypes into an endless blue sky, The Wind Rises soars to life, offering hand-drawn imagery more seductive and persuasive than any motion-capture product. Yet even Miyazaki and his Studio Ghibli wizardry can’t ward off this story’s jinxes. Jiro’s genius is godlike, but his personality is nonexistent; time is too-briskly spanned, then ground into blow-by-blow melodrama. Still, you’d be hard-pressed to find a film, animated or otherwise, with a more honest or nuanced take on the amorality of innovation. That Jiro’s planes would become wartime killers doesn’t lessen their elegance, or simplify Miyazaki’s identification with their creator.
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