With The Wind Rises, which has earned an Academy Award nomination for best animated feature, Miyazaki has made a departure from the themes and visual language that have constituted the house style of his Studio Ghibli. The digression feels all the more startling in that the 73-year-old film-maker has announced that this will be his last film. The story of second world war fighter plane designer Jiro Horikoshi may be highly fictionalised and suffused with Miyazaki’s characteristic sensitivity and breathtaking vistas, but it feels more earthily literal than the director’s standard family-friendly fare.
With that caveat in mind, it’s possible to admire and even enjoy the world that Miyazaki invites viewers to enter, in this case Japan during the 1920s and 30s, when the nearsighted, aeroplane-obsessed Horikoshi, unable to become a pilot, instead turns to engineering the flying machines that course through his dreams like giant, enchanted birds. He also dreams of an Italian aeronautical designer named Caproni, who appears throughout The Wind Rises like a benevolent muse. Miyazaki uses Horikoshi’s life to illuminate some of the most distressing chapters of Japanese history, including the country’s crippling economic depression, the devastating Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 and a tuberculosis epidemic that, in the film, winds up playing a role in Horikoshi’s courtship of his wife, Nahoko.