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The Wind Rises is the latest film directed by Japanese animation legend Hayao Miyazaki. Set in post-WW I Japan, this film is a change of pace from the usual mythical and mystical stories he delivers. The Wind Rises is based on the life of Jiro Horikoshi, a Japanese airplane designer. As a young boy, Jiro dreams of designing beautiful airplanes; he follows that dream by becoming an engineer. Meanwhile his country is suffering through postwar poverty and a massive earthquake. It might be hard to imagine that Miyazaki’s deceptively simple animation could convey such desolation, but he does it with epic scope.

The likeable and talented Jiro wants to design beautiful things, serving as a sort of alter-ego for Miyazaki, who uses animation to bring his own beautiful things to life. Even though this is a biographical film, the director uses Jiro’s dreams to bring his own whimsical style to a story that seems devoid of the possibility. In his dreams, Jiro meets and speaks with his hero, an Italian aircraft designer named Giovanni Caproni who encourages and inspires him.

The film’s title comes from a poem by French poet Paul Valéry, “the wind is rising, we must try to live.” That’s the situation in which these characters find themselves: caught between one disaster and another, blown about by forces outside their control, they make the most of the time they’ve got, including Jiro’s sweet and melancholy romance.

While Miyazaki is known by some for family-friendly fare like Ponyo, The Wind Rises is not for young children. Besides some strong language, there is a lot of historically accurate but also appealing smoking going on—friends relax and enjoy each other’s company by way of cigarettes, and the need for another smoke becomes a source of humor. Other images would be difficult for a child as well.

The movie presents the opportunity to discuss the topic of the moral responsibility of those who design, create, or explore. Jiro was eventually able to see his designs come to fruition by creating them for the Japanese military; the bombers he designed caused devastation during World War II. While this is presented as a moral dilemma for him, his reaction is portrayed as sad resignation that this is the way it has to be. Is an artist or an engineer or a scientist justified in pushing the boundaries and creating excellent designs when the outcome will be something destructive?

This is a beautiful, long, often quiet piece of work worthy of appreciation and contemplation. (Studio Ghibli)

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