2013, 126 min. PG-13 for some disturbing images and (oh, for God’s sake) smoking
IMDB says... A look at the life of Jiro Horikoshi, the man who designed Japanese fighter planes during World War II.
The 73rd Virgin says... If you’ve reached an age where you say to yourself, “gosh, it’s been too long since I’ve seen an animated movie about a heroically good-hearted, soft-spoken, near-sighted, Japanese engineering genius who visits Nazi Germany and then designs the fighter plane that terrorizes Asia and the Pacific from 1940 to 1945, combined with a touching gentle love story about his marriage to a consumptive young woman, with dream sequences involving Italian Count Caproni – and lots of Schubert ”, then here you go. It is enormously complex, thoughtful, and shaded.
A little boy with thick glasses wakes up on a sunny morning and climbs up a hill to a little fanciful airplane powered by tea pots and takes off into the blue sky. He observes above massive fanciful aircraft powered by oars, out of which drop grey lumpen monsters. I’m thinking, “We’ve seen ALL this before Hayao – got anything new?”
As it happens, yes. I suspect the (forever getting ready to retire) animation director Hayao Miyazaki is winking at us, and saying, “now that we’ve gotten that out of the way…”.
We will soon be following the very loose approximation of the life of master aeronautical engineer, Jirô Horikoshi, based on Miyazaki’s manga. This is not biography.
Like all Miyazakis, it’s filled with detailed side-of-the-frame visual grace notes that immerse you more than most computer animation could ever hope to. The classical music playing on the Victrola is next to an empty record sleeve that confirms Beethoven; the record has a red Columbia Records logo. While rescuing a young quake victim with a broken leg, Jiro splints the leg with, what else? A slide rule – with numbers lovingly detailed into place. In an Ozu-like sequence, the young over-worked husband falls asleep in his suit and tie next to his wife’s “floor” bed. The frame is still for a very long time; then she slowly shifts her comforter over both of them.
Note that this comes out under Disney’s Touchstone imprint with no mention of Disney anywhere on the posters. Maybe it’s the 1923 Tokyo earthquake sequence with thousands of refugees in the foreground and the huge fires that left 100,000 dead in the background. Maybe it’s the matter-of-fact description of Japan’s interwar militarism and off-hand references to their utterly bestial behavior in Manchuria and China. Maybe it’s the girl from the cover art standing on a classic Miyazaki wind-blown sunny hillside suddenly kneeling down and coughing up bright red blood through her hands. Maybe it’s the characters’ constant smoking. The movie has many such moments that should be shocking to our sensibilities but are instead sedate, and not even judgmental.
There is an extended scene devoted to the aerodynamic improvement of flush-mounted rivets.
Dark foreshadows abound. The same fires towering over Tokyo after the 1923 quake, re-appear near the end with US bombers bringing the flame. Along the way, Jiro will fall in with a German pacifist who warmly warns him, “Germany will blow up; Japan will blow up.” For this, Jiro now has “the Thought Police” on his tail and has to finish his groundbreaking war-death machine while in hiding.
In the great one’s canon, I would rate this a little below Princess Mononoke (adult), and My Neighbor Totoro (children), but it's still beautifully difficult.
It opens with an unfamiliar (to me) quote in French from poet Paul Valéry, “The wind is rising...we must attempt to live.” For Miyazaki and his gentle hero, mission accomplished.
The pointless, insufficient trailer is below.
Blathering on and quoting myself from about a year ago, below:
My first experience with Miyazaki was the children’s masterpiece My Neighbor Totoro from 1988 – before John Lasseter of Pixar and Disney began to make such a fuss over him. Late in his career he was taken under Lassater’s fawning, gushing wing and is now a household name.
I’ve almost become blasé about the beauty of the Ghibli/Miyazaki movies. In total, my children and I must have watched various chapters of the entire canon 150 times. I’m not kidding. There is nothing to compare them to.
Those made for small children involved basically happy stories with only modest crises. And in almost all of them, both parents began the movie alive and stayed that way, too. How these came under the parenticidal Disney logo remains a mystery.
Those made for older children and adults featured fantasy stories, but with complicated flexible antagonists, conflicted heroines, and sometimes quite violent, epic, and doom-clouded storylines, coupled with endings that were still basically happy but left heroines in unresolved conditions, perched between childhood freedoms and adult burdens. Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind and Princess Mononoke, have apocalyptically violent climaxes, and Castle in the Sky features a mushroom cloud. Disney productions never came close to these battlefields strewn with bodies of fantastical creatures. Happy endings aside, these were high drama mixed with visuals that still have no equal.