The Wind Rises Movie Review

For what he has said will be his final film, animation maestro Hayao Miyazaki tackles a controversial biopic that could just as easily have been shot in live action. It's as if he's challenging filmmakers to use their imaginations and make the best movies they can make in whatever way they can. And the result is utterly magical, transcending the touchy subject matter to tell a story about the purity of creativity.

Based on the life of aviation engineer Jiro Horikoshi, this Oscar-nominated film opens in the 1920s when young Jiro (voiced by Joseph Gordon-Levitt in the English version) decides to study aeronautics because his poor eyesight won't let him become a pilot. So he dreams of designing the perfect plane, and his inventive approach catches the attention of Mitsubishi, which assigns him to a secret military project working with Japan's allies in Nazi Germany. Meanwhile, Jiro meets Nahoko (Emily Blunt) and they fall for each other as she struggles to recover from tuberculosis and he grapples with the moral issues of designing a beautiful plane that will be used to kill people in wartime.

Clearly this isn't the kind of animated movie Hollywood would ever produce: it's packed with complex characters who don't always do the right thing, and it takes a perspective that requires sympathy with someone who could be considered a historical villain. But Miyazaki tells the story exquisitely, animating the scenes with such inventiveness that it's impossible not to get lost in the breathtaking imagery. Scenes are also packed with lively side characters, including Jiro's bulldog-like boss (Martin Short), a more grounded colleague (John Krazinski) and a suspicious foreigner (Werner Herzog) who seems to be following Jiro.

It's the film's constant surreal touches that elevate it to something truly extraordinary. Miyazaki frequently takes us into Jiro's imagination for flights of fancy in which he solves problems by consulting with a mythical Italian aviator (Stanley Tucci) and interacts with people from his past. And as Jiro strives for perfection both artistically and technically, even though his work is compromised by military goals, the film uses a light touch to make an important point. All while reminding us to fill our lives with passion and creativity.

Watch 'The Wind Rises' Trailer

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The Wind Rises Rating

" Essential "

Rating: PG, 2013

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