February 28, 2014 at 8:14 am

Tom Long

Review: Dazzling, puzzling 'The Wind Rises' turns dreams toward death

'The Wind Rises' may be director Hayao Miyazaki's last film. (Studio Ghibli)

Epic in scale and breathtakingly imaginative, “The Wind Rises” is also more than a bit odd.

For one thing it brings “Gone With the Wind” emotional-historical sweep to a piece of animation. For another, it’s an admiring look at the engineer who designed the planes that bombed Pearl Harbor.

The apparent last work of Japanese animation genius Hayao Miyazaki (“Spirited Away,” “Howl’s Moving Castle”), who has announced his retirement at 73, “Wind” is lovely, inspired and haunted by the mauling of invention. The film’s hero, Jiro Horikoshi (voiced by Joseph Gordon-Levitt), simply wants to build beautiful things that fly; the only way to finance his dream is to transform those beautiful things into agents of death.

We first meet Jiro as a child. At night he dreams up high-flying adventures alongside an Italian aviation engineer named Caproni (Stanley Tucci), and these dream sequences are visually astounding wonderworlds where the two converse while walking across the wings of planes.

When Jiro grows up, he sets off for college and ends up rescuing a young girl during an earthquake. Years later, when he’s already a successful engineer, he meets the now-grown young woman (Emily Blunt) and falls in love. But she has tuberculosis, and in a decidedly old-fashioned way, their romance turns tragic.

Still, he has his planes, his work. Unfortunately, we all know where his work took Japan, and the world.

Miyazaki obviously admires Jiro’s aspirations, even his achievements on a technical level. And Jiro certainly has reservations about what he’s doing (although they never feel quite strong enough). Ultimately, pride and accomplishment collide with dark reality.

When Jiro dreams, “Wind” soars; when he comes down to earth, the film can feel a bit stiff and murky. But then, that may be the point.

'The Wind Rises'

GRADE: B-

Rated PG-13 for some disturbing images and smoking

Running time: 126 minutes

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