Sunday night was impromptu date night for my girlfriend and I, and it couldn’t have happened with a nicer movie. Bought tickets at the very last second and got in right when the previews were ending, which was nice, but also has me wondering what on Earth is previewed prior to this sort of movie. Speaking of which, the brass tacks–
Artistry is the chief point excluded from any debate regarding Hayao Miyazaki’s oeuvre, and we may call it that now that he is done (for real this time[?]), or at least preparing for his Beyoncé-style surprise feature in a few years (this writer can dream). Artistry not simply in the sense that his color theory and gouache mastery is vibrant and supersedes the humdrum spectrum of life, but the sheer rigor that is poured into each frame. This Buzzread about his career illustrates this precisely and is essential reading for any fan, and the main takeaway is the enviable stamina the man brings to his movies, which is reflective of a deeply-held passion that has sustained him over the better part of four decades, both of which are reflected upon with elegiac significance in this last offering.
What drives a creator? Miyazaki asks with this final installment. The scope of his dreams, perhaps. Jiro, our bespectacled protagonist, aided by a English magazine and a hero-worship complex with an Italian inventor I’ve never heard of is moved to pursue his sublimating love of aircraft design by a dream of flying on the wing of an airship over verdant green fields, past titanic clouds moving against a striking blue sky with the same inventor, Caproni, standing beside him. Small wonder this plants the kernel that moves the rest of his life, for it’s all here in this dream to be taken–boundless freedom, majestic works of humanity, a lonely world growing more and more insignificant as Jiro soars into the horizon. Also, he’s, like, ten years old when this happens and if you’re nerdy ten year old and you learn about airplanes, particularly these multi-story fuckers, there’s little hope for your imagination; it’s going to be swallowed up. It’s safe to say that anyone who dreams on this level would be beleaguered to do anything but pursue the obvious compulsion (make the best airplane! commit your entire career to feats of gorgeous cinema!)
I suppose revealing Jiro’s crowning achievement would air on the side of spoilers in a film a clef such as this, but it’s permissible to acknowledge that the central crux of this story is his battle against his will to succeed. I say battle, but with the stakes raised and framed to the extent they are, it’s more of a skirmish or a bumping up against someone in a bar and quickly apologizing. That’s the byproduct of cramming a life story into about two hours, and the romanticism that comes with Miyazaki, the celebration of minutiae that he is the master of, that has helped define his place in animation. So, personally, I can’t get too mad at him if the details don’t underpin the overarching point of it all, but it means that the film demands some contextual knowledge. Honestly, one could sit through the entire piece and if, in some bizarro parallel dimension, they had never heard of World War II or the major players, they might think that everyone hated the Germans for being pretty rude to guests and having some sort of secret police. Perhaps Miyazaki perceived those themes as Jiro perceived them, undeniably important, but set outside of his view of the world (planes! ink!) at this stage of the game. Dude’s, like, 72 years old or something.
Jiro is undeniably dogged, partially for this reason, partially for his ludicrously extravagant dreamscapes and also, as we find towards the end, some sort of escape. The occasional revelation that he is building machines designed to aid fascists into murdering their enemies is soundly resolved by focusing on the task at hand, and also by being in love–plotlines that are never mutually exclusive, always concurrently running alongside each other. His relationship to his friends, to his wife, all of it is adjacent to the slide rule on paper that lies before him, and that is what Miyazaki is aiming to communicate with The Wind Rises. It’s a manifesto. The only way to create your true innovation, the work that expresses itself from your heart, it tirelessly repeats, is to pursue it without fear of retribution from others, or the crueler opponent, yourself, and to do so in pure, ecstatic devotion. And this is another theme that has been with us in all of his epics, Nausicaa, Spirited Away: the notion of the journey, of ceaseless, sweaty work as the only legitimate form of guaranteeing your own happiness. Just, just watch it. It makes sense. Honestly.
Despite certain plot twists that seem to come as whatever plot element is tonally opposed to deus ex machina, Miyazaki’s view of love, the healing power of love, is perpetuated–though, in a surprisingly adult fashion, compared to his earlier works, which, ultimately, was the most satisfying element of this swan song. It’s the same Miyazaki that has brought you this far, purchased the ticket for you with the promise of swooping, breathtaking anime-without-the-stigma, but with this fermented maturity now rounding it all out. There’s a delineation now, between the world of pretend, of dreams, of magic, and the acceptance of reality, for all its flaws, for all its silent one-shots, for all of its tragedies.
For that reason, primarily, I hope that this is the last we’ll see from Miyazaki (on the big screen, anyway). His work has afforded us such joy, brought me untold inspiration, that this pronouncement brings all that he has tried to say into sharp, real focus. You must live! he calls from the cockpit, and takes off.