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Last weekend I saw “The Wind Rises” by the famous Hayao Miyazaki. I must confess that before I sat down in the theater I had a number of reservations. Probably my foremost concern was the fact that the trailer gave me nothing to look forward to. I could tell that the movie had lots of planes, it was a period piece, and there was romance. Otherwise it didn’t seem to resemble the bulk of Miyazaki’s work, which often have wonderfully fantastic settings/characters.

I had heard that this was going to be Miyazaki’s last work, and if that was the case then why something so ordinary?

His previous movie “Ponyo” was in many ways a rather drastic departure from the usual style that Studio Ghibli produces, part of me was hoping that if this truly was Miyazaki’s last work, that he’d take that stylistic change a step further and come up with something nobody had seen before. We all know he has that ability, after all.

However I was intrigued when I heard that the reception in America was rather cold. I had read online that the film contained “anti-American” sentiments. And sure enough when it came out I had to wait over two months before any theatre would show it in Rochester. After all that time exactly one theatre carried, and it would only be up for only one week. It certainly seemed like the film was being black-listed.

It was maybe five minutes into the film that I turned to Alex and whispered “I love this movie.”

I won’t be spoiling anything for people who have not seen the movie, but it is most certainly one of Miyazaki’s best works.

Setting it apart is the fact that it is not for children. The movie takes place during World War 2 and follows the life of a young engineer who is tasked with designing fighter planes for the war.

Here is where the “anti-American” sentiment comes in. Twice during the movie they mention the possibility of attacking America. That’s it. Done. The war is not glorified at all. Miyazaki takes his usual stance and portrays violence with complete disdain, not a single character ever touts the benefits of the war save for slight moments of patriotism (but really most of his characters openly criticize the Japanese government).

So, anti-American? I don’t buy it.

This movie has planes. Lots and lots of planes. I have little to no interest in vehicles. If I had to pick one I’d say I was “a boat person.” But the planes in The Wind Rises are portrayed with a level of reverence that one can’t help but be captivated by. The movie portrays them as beautiful, and in the movie that is precisely what they are, and we share in our hero’s lamentations that they are being built for war.

The history behind the movie is absolutely fascinating. As I have written before, Japan during World War 2 is something we only ever learn about in the context of “the bomb.” Never in a history class have I learned what was going on in Japan before Hiroshima, or their relationship with Germany. All I ever knew was that they were part of the Axis Powers. The Wind Rises serves up a rich history of that period, and I ate up every morsel.

I will say this though. The voice acting is not astounding. Anime buffs will often grumble that these productions lose their soul when dubbed, but I have always felt that the Studio Ghibli movie dubbings have always been spot on. I felt less confident about this casting.

Jiro Horikoshi (our hero) is played by Joseph Gordon Levitt, who I honestly thought was Shia LaBeouf until three quarters in. His character is a man of few words and rather reserved even for an engineer. So, obviously that’s a challenge to capture considering you have to deliver your lines on a precise beat. Nevertheless, I couldn’t shake the feeling that the performance could have been better.

John Krasinski (Jim Halpert from The Office) plays Honjo, Jiro’s best friend. A sarcastic cool-guy. Krasinski’s voice stuck out for me, I didn’t buy that he was acting. It felt more like he was simply speaking his lines. The man has a distinct voice, but it didn’t feel like he was using it.

Martin Short was amazing.

At the end even these minor distractions paled in comparison to the overall beauty of the movie. It felt like I wasn’t watching a animation, but rather some classic French film. Because, hey! ultimately the movie is about life and love. In many ways it reminded me of the 2010 “L’Illusionniste” by Sylvain Chomet; except where that movie is tragedy punctuated by moments of beauty, The Wind Rises is beautiful punctuated by moments of tragedy.

I would have been very bored as a kid if I watched this. Looking around me the few kids that I did see were sleeping, or wishing they were. Truth be told the movie does lose some of its momentum in the last quarter, but regardless each frame is lovely to look at, and when the movie finished I immediately wanted to see it again.

I didn’t cry during the movie, but I will eventually.