As Hayao Miyazaki’s final film, ‘The Wind Rises’ comes with a weight of expectation pretty much unparalleled in world cinema.
The animation master has almost single-handedly taken Japanese anime from being a niche concern to worldwide acclaim - culminating in the Oscar-winning Sprited Away.
He’s always been a man who makes films primarily for himself, so it’s no surprise that his self-imposed swan song perversely marks a departure from his usual work.
Where the majority of his 10 directorial offerings have been easily appreciated by all ages, ‘The Wind Rises’ is a much more adult affair - taking in the disasters, epidemics, economic stagnation and war which blighted early-to-mid 20th century Japan.
He does this through the eyes of plane designer Jiro Horikoshi - a highly-fictionalised version of a real person.
After his plans of becoming a pilot are stymied by near-sightedness, Jiro becomes inspired to become an aviation engineer after meeting Italian plane designer Gianni Caproni in his dreams. It’s an aeronautic obession which is to inform the rest of his life, even as he navigates love, death and global conflict.
As with all of Miyazaji’s ‘Studio Ghibli’ offerings, the entire film looks beautiful. The scenes set in the ‘real’ world are stunning enough, but when events unfold in any one of numerous dream sequences the fantastical results are genuinely breathtaking. Huge flying machines take to the air powered by a series of whirling cogs, spinning propellors and fire-spitting exhausts, while hundreds of tiny voyagers swarm the cabins, turrets and cockpits.
While Jiro’s dreams are technicolour wonderlands, his waking hours are filled with the practicalities of design - where a single raised screwhead can mean the difference between success and failure - and courting the love of his life. The growing realisation that every facet of his life is ultimately doomed is both heartbreaking and uplifting. “Japan will burn”, warns a visiting German on the eve of World War II. Jiro carries on regardless.
Pack in a supporting cast of colourful characters and you have a film which satisfyingly concludes the director’s flawless canon.
The closing scene sees both Jiro and his creator exit the frame together - Miyazaki successfully writing his own perfect epitaph as retirement beckoned.