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Film Review: 'The Wind Rises' Is Hayao Miyazaki's Final Adventure

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The Wind Rises is Hayao Miyazaki's final swan song in a celebrated career of Japanese animation, and is one of his most beautiful and haunting films. The movie debuted in the U.S. at AFI FEST on Friday, and will be playing in L.A. and in New York through Nov. 14.

Over his stretch of 11 imaginative films, from Spirited Away to My Neighbor Totoro, Miyazaki has chosen The Wind Rises as his last movie before retirement. It's a peculiar subject for the director, as it has been particularly polarizing in Japan; he has chosen the subject of his film to be about Jiro Horikushu, the aeronautical engineer of the Zero Fighter plane that attacked Pearl Harbor. Critics have described it as being pro-war to being anti-Japanese.

However, the subject matter focuses on Jiro's dream to create something beautiful, and his passion for something so complicated and gorgeous is expressed in such a heartfelt way in the movie. We follow the engineer—whose kind demeanor and hero complex keeps us rooting for him—through his childhood to his shining moment of finally creating the Zero Fighter. There are a series of failures and plenty of plane crashes to keep the audience captivated. If anything, Miyazaki relays a urging of persistence and a underlying need to keep doing what you love you to do. Any political message lies in the fact that war is devastating from any angle, and there is little that can be done in preventing the beautiful craftsmanship of airplanes to participate in warfare.

The Wind Rises is a marvel in respects to the attention to detail that is put into this period piece—from the particular vintage phones used in the 1930s to the wardrobe which shows the influence of Western culture with its three-piece suits juxtaposed with the kimonos the women wore. We also get a taste of Japanese history when Miyazaki shows the devastating effects of the large Japanese earthquake leveled out the land.

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There are moments where the plot is flawed, where we get lost in the engineering jargon, and since the film runs for over two hours, there is quite a bit of it. Jiro's budding romance with Nahoko seems rushed at first, but Miyazaki manages to flesh it out in such a believable way.

The Wind Rises is a complex and poetic film, and leaves us enveloped in Jiro's world, which mixes fantasy with reality—true to Miyazaki form. Even though it's in the U.S. for a short run so it can qualify for the Academy Awards in March, it will return to the big screen for limited release on Feb. 21, 2013