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'The Wind Rises' ... and Imagination Takes Wing

A new animated classic finds beauty rooted in real life

Rating: PG-13

Running Time: 2 hours, 6 minutes

Stars: (voices): Emily Blunt, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, John Krasinski, Mandy Patinkin, Martin Short, Stanley Tucci

Director: Hayao Miyazaki

Movie review begins beneath the video trailer.

A life remembered as a dream, The Wind Rises is inspired by the true story of Jiro Horikoshi, the man who designed the nimble Zero fighter that Japan used to such deadly effect in World War II. It's an epic tale that involves a devastating earthquake, a coming war and the heartbreak of lost love. Yet like life itself, The Wind Rises rewards the viewer with moments of intimate delight and explosions of breathtaking beauty.

The Wind Rises, the story of Jiro Horikoshi in WWII Japan.


"The Wind Rises," the story of Jiro Horikoshi in WWII Japan, is a five-star movie must-see.

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The Wind Rises is also reportedly the last film directed by animation genius Hayao Miyazaki. He's the man everyone likes to call the Japanese Walt Disney.

That may be so, but the characterization falls short: Whereas Disney occasionally elevated animation to high art, Miyazaki seems incapable of creating anything less than groundbreaking masterpieces. In his greatest films, such as the transporting Spirited Away, Miyazaki finds ways to burrow into the viewer's subconscious, and even primal, mind.

Immerse yourself in a Miyazaki film — its lyrical landscapes, its surreal imagery — and at some point you will feel you are dreaming. This time around, perhaps because he's chosen to relate the story of a real person's life, Miyazaki tempers his more outrageous instincts. In contrast to the director's traditional heroes and heroines — brave children whose pluckiness is often born of a happy naîveté — Horikoshi is a grownup, with grownup worries and disappointments. He has a sick wife; a demanding boss; a beloved homeland in turmoil. 

But just when you begin to suspect that The Wind Rises might have worked better as a live-action film, Jiro's dreams take flight. Then, as we soar through the clouds and dip perilously close to the earth — you can almost feel the wind in your hair — Miyazaki reminds us, beautifully, that masterly animation doesn't explore fantasy alone; it can create a kind of hyper-reality that reveals the material world in ways we never dreamed.

The current theatrical version of The Wind Rises features an English-speaking voice cast, including Emily Blunt, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, John Krasinski and Martin Short. They all do a fine job, but a degree of the film's magic is lost as the cast occasionally rushes to fit dialogue into scenes constructed for a Japanese script. Sadly, American audiences remain allergic to subtitles (mostly because they encounter them so rarely).

See The Wind Rises in a theater now; Miyazaki's dreamscape plays best across a big screen. But remember to get the DVD when it comes out, and select the original Japanese soundtrack. It's the ideal way to experience what may well be the final word from the Animation Master: a work as powerful as Mount Fuji, as delicate as a floating lotus blossom.

Bill Newcott is a writer, editor and movie critic for AARP Media.