I have been a big fan of Japanese anime master Hayao Miyazaki ever since I saw his absolutely brilliant film, Spirited Away (2001), which tell of a 10-year-old girl who wandered into a world of strange humans, spirits and monsters, most of which took place in a mystical bathhouse. Despite being a 2D film, with hardly any special effects or cutesy songs, it was a visual feast for the ears and eyes, from its stirring plotline to witty dialogue to stunning animation. It was the same with his later films, namely 2004’s Howl’s Moving Castle – albeit the moving castle was more, er, moving than the male lead – and the truly hilariously mind-blowing and magical Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea (2008).
Miyazaki’s latest The Wind Rises – much declared to be his last as he’s “retiring” for the umpteenth time – is more straightforward. It tells of the story of Jiro Horikoshi, the man who designed Japanese fighter planes during World War II and the only magical bits are the dreams he had as a boy in which he receives advice from his idol, Italian airplane maker Giovanni Caproni, on pursuing his dream of being an aircraft designer. Frankly, with its somber undertones – earthquakes, weapons of destruction, deadly illnesses – it’s more akin to the brilliant but utterly depressing Grave of the Fireflies (1988, not by Mizayaki but Isao Takahata albeit from the same studio) – a tragic tale of a boy and his sister trying to survive in Japan during World War II – but thankfully, not as one-box-of-tissues heart-wrenching. The main thing is, in simple 2D, Miyazaki once again produced a film that offers vibrancy in colours, compelling characters and captivating plots in equal dosages.
Not to mention – SPOILER ALERT – one of the most heartwarming love stories ever committed to the animated celluloid in recent times (okay, Up in the first 10 minutes still wins hands down), including one of the funniest yet beautiful and touching Japanese wedding scenes ever.
Does The Wind Rises glamorises war? No it doesn’t. It just remind people to follow their dreams, but not by forsaking the people they love; to live up to their potential, without stepping on anyone’s foot or losing respect for a fellow human. It’s a very quiet film and I liked to thank the moviegoers at the cinema I was in who, along with me, respected the silences by ceasing to snack during those bits and not a single phone rang.
Let’s hope it won’t be Miyazaki’s last animated feature. The movie world needs more of these…
Photos credit: Studio Ghibli