Combustible Celluloid
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With: Hideaki Anno, Miori Takimoto, Hidetoshi Nishijima, Masahiko Nishimura, Stephen Alpert (Japanese version)
Written by: Hayao Miyazaki, based on a manga by Miyazaki
Directed by: Hayao Miyazaki
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some disturbing images and smoking
Language: Japanese, with English subtitles
Running Time: 126
Date: 11/08/2013

The Wind Rises (2013)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Fly Away

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Last year, Hayao Miyazaki's The Wind Rises was shown to critics and Academy voters in its original Japanese form, and it received many accolades, including an Oscar nomination for Best Animated Feature. Now the English-language version has arrived in Bay Area theaters in one of Disney's respectful and carefully-dubbed jobs. The result is just as beautiful and just as troubling as the Japanese version.

To start, The Wind Rises tells the story of Jiro Horikoshi (voiced by Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a legendary aviation engineer who designed planes, "zero fighters," that were used in WWII against the United States -- although Jiro himself is painted as a pacifist. He falls in love with Nahoko Satomi (voiced by Emily Blunt), which brings both passion and tragedy to his life, although his greatest obsession seems to be with weight and airflow and curves and mechanics.

Like so many others, Miyazaki can't transcend the typical "biopic," which offers merely highlights of a person's life story and fails to find much depth in each moment. For example, potential dramatic events pop up -- such as a visit from Jiro's sister -- and then disappear. What remains is something like a soap opera, as Nahoko succumbs to illness and Jiro struggles to be with her as well as finishing his design before deadline. (Kids will very likely be bored.)

This new movie does include some of Miyazaki's strongest visuals, notably in his depictions of weather, wind, and especially an earthquake. Certain sound effects seem hauntingly human in origin, bringing a sense of organic connection.

But the story and the characters are just not as magical, nor as involving as in his masterworks Spirited Away or Howl's Moving Castle. The Wind Rises occasionally reverts to dream sequences in which Jiro meets the Italian aircraft designer Giovanni Battista Caproni (voiced by Stanley Tucci). But even these seem a bit too literal.

Miyazaki is a plane nut, and he clearly made this film as a labor of love. But his greatest plane movie is the underrated Porco Rosso (1992), which not only incorporated imaginative fantasy elements into its narrative, but also dazzling, breathtaking representations of planes in flight. The Wind Rises, by contrast, takes place mostly on the ground.

Without a doubt, Hayao Miyazaki is one of the great living filmmakers in any format, and with this movie, he has announced his retirement. It's tempting to proclaim this final work as something career-capping, but in reality it's a disappointingly minor effort.

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