A master craftsman and an average artist may start with the same tools, but they end up with work that is completely different in quality. In the world of animation, Hayao Miyazaki is one of the all-time master craftsmen.
His career is full of examples of taking the standard elements of animation and elevating them to grand artistic levels. Miyazaki's films are so visually splendid, they are what poetry would look like if there was no printed word.
His latest — and reportedly last — film, "The Wind Rises," shows the same brilliance. From the eye-bending massive crowd scenes to the subtle use of color, the film is a fitting tribute to a director who has never allowed himself to be held down by the laws of light and color. His skilled hands know how to present visuals in a magical way.
"The Wind Rises" looks at the life of Jiro Horikoshi, the man who designed Japanese fighter planes during World War II. By strict definition, this should be a film that comes with a dark edge. But Miyazaki adds dashes of whimsy and fantasy to create this unique world where the passion of an artist — even one who designs planes of war — can be appreciated.
It would have been easy for the film to be grounded by a heavy political message. But the script by Miyazaki focuses more on the art of imagination, which doesn't change no matter the global temperament. "The Wind Rises" is a flight of fancy that tells the story of how one young man gets inspired by the famous Italian aeronautical designer Gianni Caproni and begins a lifetime love affair with flight. Even when Horikoshi goes to work for a Japanese engineering company in 1927 that's working on designs to make planes more efficient in battle, the film never goes away from the central theme of artistic creation.
At the same time, the film crafts a love story that examines how the connection between two people is one of the strongest forces on the planet. Miyazaki isn't afraid to put his tale of flight in a holding pattern to allow the connection between his two young lovers to spark, ignite and then grow into a blazing deep bond.
Miyazaki works differently than American animators in that he produces his films before adding the dialogue. That style makes it easy for the movie to be redubbed into English, which was done with the likes of Joseph Gordon-Levitt, John Krasinski, Emily Blunt, Martin Short and Stanley Tucci.
Gordon-Levitt manages to bring a sweet and dreamer quality to his performance as the voice of Horikoshi. His works makes it easy to climb aboard this flight, carried along by the winds of imagination and creativity.
It would be a great loss if this does end up being Miyazaki's last movie. There hasn't been an animator since Walt Disney who understands as deeply how to make their work become more than just a projection of light and sound. Animation is an art form that's lifted to amazing heights when in the hands of a master craftsman like Miyazaki.
"The Wind Rises" rated PG-13 for disturbing images, smoking. Stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt, John Krasinski, Emily Blunt, Martin Short, Stanley Tucci. Directed by Hayao Miyazaki. Running time: 126 minutes. Grade: A-