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Friday, January 17, 2014

The Oscar-Nominated Animated Film, THE WIND RISES, Is a Beautiful and Touching Swan Song from Hayao Miyazaki


Every so often comes an animated film that is so much more than family entertainment, more than just colorful, prettily drawn graphics over which children can gush. Those films are too often identified as "the new Lion King" or "the best animated movie since The Little Mermaid." But THE WIND RISES, from the critically acclaimed director of Spirited Away, is a statement piece--a film that needs no qualifier or precedence. It is simply magnificent.

Inspired by Hayao Miyazaki's manga of the same titles and loosely adapted from the short story The Wind Has Risen by Tatsuo Hori, THE WIND RISES dramatizes the true story of Jiro Horikoshi, the chief engineer of many Japanese fighter planes during World War II. Presented as a historical fiction tale told often in spectacular dream sequences, the film trails his life beginning as a nearsighted young boy in Japan with aspirations of becoming a pilot but ultimately inspired those around him by pushing the boundaries and becoming someone much greater.

What would you do if you could do anything? That's one of the questions the film asks as audiences become entranced by this glorious story bursting with hope, determination and success against the odds. When we meet our young hero, Jiro, he has almost come to terms with the realization that he won't ever become a pilot because of his nearsightedness. But with one fantastical meeting with early 20th century Italian aeronautical engineer Giovanni Battista Caproni, who appears literally out of the blue after Jiro falls asleep one day, the young boy's outlook completely changes. Caproni, as Jiro comes to call him, becomes a dream tour guide--showing Jiro that his life is not determined by his challenges. In fact, in this dream world Jiro has the freedom to go far beyond the limits of reality where his options are limitless. There he is not bound by his age, shortcomings, or even racial barriers.

The latter is one of the film's most galvanizing concepts, as it allows for the viewer to move even further into the fantasy and sink deeper into the story's objective. Caproni takes Jiro under his wing and, as Jiro grows older and excels in the field of engineering, he earns the respect of not only his Japanese peers back home (including his scrutinizing boss Mr. Kurokawa) but he piques the interests of German competitors during a time when the political and cultural turmoil are at an all-time high.

Balancing accelerating career accomplishments with a soft romantic angle, THE WIND RISES surges forward with the blossoming romance between Jiro and a young woman he meets on a particularly blustery day in Japan named Nahoko. With the backdrop of war and increasing civil strife (illuminated by the exquisite art design and musical score), their love for one another shines that much brightly and transcends distance, realms and even disease (Nahoko is later diagnosed with a lung hemorrhage).

Jiro's expansive journey into the depths of his imagination opens the hearts and minds of audiences, encouraging us all to dream a little bigger and fly a little farther. The voice actors who breathe life into these marvelous characters--including Kayo, Jiro's loyal sister-- offer a sense of humanity in light of the film's wondrous and sometimes solemn nature. A beautiful--and now Oscar-nominated--swan song from Miyazaki, THE WIND RISES is a breathtaking ode to what is and what could be. It's the ultimate underdog story that teaches us that even when "the wind is rising we must try to live."

THE WIND RISES releases in U.S. theaters February 21st. Watch the trailer:



Rating: A (***** out of *****)

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