Sunday, April 27, 2014

The Wind Rises

The "Best Animated" feature of the Oscars is, weirdly, the one category where popularity reigns over the arty and obscure. Or maybe it's not so weird in a town of childless pedophiles. Of the five animated films nominated, you got one Disney, one Dreamworks, and one from Illumination.

Despicable Me 2 was decent, especially for a sequel. As beloved as Frozen is, it's kind of a mess of a film. (The Boy pointed this out: the tonal shifts from deadly serious to goofy snowmen or inexplicable troll creatures are jarring.) When I mention to The Boy that The Croods got an Oscar nomination, he yells "F*** The Croods!"

Yeah, we have opinions around here. One of which is that Monsters U, was far better than those three films. Bu The Wind Rises and Ernest and Celestine? Much harder to say.

The Wind Rises is Hayao Miyazaki's latest "last film" capping a 20 year dedication to retiring eventually someday, and it's some ways it's diametrically opposed to his previous last film, Ponyo. If that film skewed young, this one isn't really for kids at all.

The Wind Rises is the story of the aeronautic engineer who would ultimately design the planes that would be used to attack Pearl Harbor and host the kamikazee.

Wait, what?

Yeah.

It's the '30s, so there's tuberculosis. And lots and lots of smoking. I haven't seen this much smoking in a cartoon since Fred and Barney were shilling for Winston.

Content aside, this is very much a Miyazaki film. The story concerns young Jiro, who loves airplanes and has a real skill for building them. Apparently they were making Japanese planes out of bamboo or rice or something, and Jiro, who has great ideas, is sent around the world to learn more techniques. Ultimately he brings honor to Japan's air force with his novel design approaches.

Jiro is a combination of two actual Japanese engineers, necessarily, and whatever the actual history, the movie is a vehicle to express Miyazaki's take on the tensions between technology and industry, and of art and reality.

A lot of people will say this is a different film for him, but it's really not: His films are always about these themes. Which, hey, beats making movies about daddy issues. (kaffkaffTimBurtonkafkaff)

In this case, the opening is a delightful, traditional introduction to a boy who wants to fly but has poor vision. In his dreams, he lives in a world with amazing aircraft built by Italian aeronautic engineer Gianni Caproni, who tells Jiro he couldn't fly either, but encourages him to build airplanes.

This dream world is very Miyazaki, and Jiro and Caproni continue their relationship throughout Jiro's career, discussing the art and science of plane-making, along with the consequences of developing beautiful, powerful things that you know must eventually be turned to evil.

It's a theme Miyazaki clearly feels deeply, and because of the realisticness of the scenario, I think it hits home here more than it does in movies like Princess Mononoke. There's also the contrast of the real world where people fall in love and grow old and have victories and failures and get sick and die. It's not all just beautiful creation.

Miyazaki's poetry and pacing is in full flower (not at all like someone who needs to retire, anyway), so if you like that, there's nothing to be disappointed in here.

The Boy loved it, and picked it as his favorite animated film of the year, and one of his favorites overall. The Flower also loved it but may have been more charmed by Ernest and Celestine.

I enjoyed it quite a lot though it always takes me some portion of a Miyazaki film to stop waiting for the conflict. His movies are about things-that-happen versus, say, the more common villains-and-heroes scenario. The tension is always larger, more vaguely defined: We know there's going to be war, but we're not going to see Hitler and Mussolini and Hirohito plotting it.

And when there are villains, Miyazaki saves them rather than killing them. Lady Eboshi (Mononoke) is robbing the countryside of its magic, but does so to provide for her people. The Witch of the Waste (Howl's Moving Castle) is vain and mischievous, but underneath basically harmless. And even Madame Suliman (Howl), who is about as evil as can be is merely robbed of her power over Howl by Sophie loving him. (You can't really mistake Hayao's movies for anyone else's, even his apprentices.)

But sometimes I want the witch pushed in the oven.

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