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Hayao Miyazaki’s ‘The Wind Rises’ never really takes flight

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Celebrated animator Hayao Miyazaki has said “The Wind Rises” may be his last full-length film.

Last year, Hayao Miyazaki’s “The Wind Rises” was shown to critics and Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences voters in its original Japanese form, and it received many accolades, including an Oscar nomination for best animated feature.

Now the English-language version has arrived in Bay Area theaters in one of Disney’s respectful and carefully dubbed jobs. The result is just as beautiful and just as troubling as the Japanese version.

“The Wind Rises” tells the story of Jiro Horikoshi (voiced by Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a legendary aviation engineer who designed planes, zero fighters, that were used in World War II against the United States — although Jiro himself is painted as a pacifist.

He falls in love with Nahoko Satomi (voiced by Emily Blunt), which brings both passion and tragedy to his life, although his greatest obsession seems to be with weight, airflow, curves and mechanics.

Like so many others, Miyazaki can’t transcend the typical biopic genre, which offers merely highlights of a person’s life story and fails to find much depth in each moment.

For example, potential dramatic events pop up — such as a visit from Jiro’s sister — and then disappear.

What remains is something like a soap opera, as Nahoko succumbs to illness and Jiro struggles to be with her and finish his design before deadline. Kids will likely be bored.

This new movie does include some of Miyazaki’s strongest visuals, notably in his depictions of weather, wind and especially an earthquake. Certain sound effects seem hauntingly human in origin, adding a sense of organic connection.

But the story and the characters are just not as magical, nor as involving, as in his masterworks “Spirited Away” or “Howl’s Moving Castle.”

“The Wind Rises” occasionally reverts to dream sequences in which Jiro meets the Italian aircraft designer Giovanni Battista Caproni (voiced by Stanley Tucci). But even these seem a bit too literal.

Miyazaki is a plane nut, and he clearly made this film as a labor of love. But his greatest plane movie is the underrated “Porco Rosso” from 1992, which incorporated imaginative fantasy elements into its narrative and dazzling, breathtaking representations of planes in flight.

“The Wind Rises,” by contrast, takes place mostly on the ground.

Without a doubt, Hayao Miyazaki is one of the great living filmmakers in any format, and with this movie, he has announced his retirement. It’s tempting to proclaim this final work as something career-capping, but in reality it’s a disappointingly minor effort.


The Wind Rises

Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Emily Blunt, John Krasinski, Martin Short

Written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki

Rated PG-13

Running time 2 hours, 6 minutes

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