There aren’t animated films around quite like the ones from Hayao Miyazaki, and his production company Studio Gibli. From his beloved children’s classic My Neighbor Totoro, to the Oscar winning Spirited Away, there’s always something magical about every one of his films. He’s perhaps one of the most revered animation directors of all time, often called the Walt Disney of Japan. With all due respects to Mr. Disney, but Miyazaki deserves to be in a class by himself.  Miyazaki never shies away from adult themes, and all of his films wonderfully translate to cultures across the world. The animation quality in his films rivals no other, and it’s widely known that they were late to use computers. All of recent films remain just as hand crafted today as they were twenty years ago. There’s a human touch in his animation that’s difficult to achieve in the age of computer-animated films. Five of Miyazaki’s films sit comfortably on the IMDB top 250, an impressive feat for any director. I have a feeling that his most recent feature The Wind Rises will quickly follow suit to crack the list.

The Wind Rises brought Miyazaki out of retirement for directing, (He wrote the last few Studio Gibli films), and it will probably be regarded as one of his finest. The story is beautifully simplistic in that it’s about a Japanese boy’s passion for aviation. There’s always been a common theme of flight in many of his films, and one can’t help but get the feeling Miyazaki has always looked up towards the skies for inspiration. There was Castle in the Sky in which a young boy and girl search for a mysterious floating castle, his young witch in the beloved Kiki’s Delivery Service took to the skies on her broom, and his Howl’s Moving Castle had a giant legged walking home.

The Wind Rises is a rich and moving examination of the passion in both flying and young love. The film is based on the life of Jiro Horikoshi, a chief engineer of many Japanese fighter airplanes of WWII. Unlike many of Miyazaki’s previous films this one in particular is rooted in the real world. Starting with Jiro’s upbringing in which he developed a love for flying machines in rural Japan his hero the great Italian aircraft designer Gianni Caproni comes to Jiro in a dream telling him, “Airplanes are not tools of war; airplanes are beautiful dreams.” The wise advice becomes the inspiration for Jiro.  There are elements of tragedy with echoes of Isao Takahata’s Grave the Fireflies. One of these deals with him falling in love with a young woman named Nahoko who’s sick with tuberculosis.


Upon graduating from engineering school Jiro, along with his best friend and fellow engineer Honjo, attempt to build the perfect bomber plane for the Japanese military. One of the underlying themes deals with them having to come to terms with the end result of these planes as weapons of war.  These bright young men are in it for the chance to build a dream of engineering, not a weapon of destruction. Jiro and Honjo are able to look past the elements of war by making something beautiful. Not many characters in animation today are as fully fleshed out as they are here, and Jiro’s passion is easy for anyone to identify with.

The voices over American dubs are always superb, and are well cast here with Joseph Gordon Levitt lending his voice to Jiro. Emily Blunt voice adds an extra melancholic beauty to the love interest Nahoko, and John Krasinski voices his best friend Honjo. There’s some with some great supporting work here by Martin Short, Stanley Tucci, and Mae Whitman.

Supposedly The Wind Rises is the last feature film Miyazaki will direct, and if one had to go out with anything it should be a film as strong as this one. But don’t be surprised to see him come out of retirement again since it’s hard to believe that this man will ever truly stop creating art. The film is currently nominated for Best Animated feature Oscar, but it’s doubtful that anything will stop Disney’s Frozen for the win. However, if there was a dark horse winner in the category it would be this one. It’s one of the most moving animated films to come around in a while, and certainly one of the most gorgeously animated.