We watch as boyhood dreams become part of reality during a time when reality is bleak and unrelenting.
Review (with Spoilers)
Once again Miyazaki and company set a precedent which likely won’t be matched even by the touching works of Pixar. You go on a journey in which a boy sees his dreams become reality in a time when Japan is in the midst of war, a depression, and oppression from the Germans. But, even with so many morose topics, there is laughter, love, and career accomplishments making for a, seemingly, biographical tale which makes animation seemingly a good medium for future biographical endeavors.
Characters & Story
First, it should be noted that the film is a work of “Historical Fiction,” in a Forrest Gump type of way, but with a smaller time period covered. We begin with Jiro (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) as a boy who dreams of creating airplanes, fast forward to him in college when the Great Kanto Earthquake happens, and then again during the time when Japan was an active participant in World War II. Over the course of each portion of his life, he speaks with famous Italian designer Giovanni Caproni (Stanley Tucci), in his dreams, about their mutual love for aircrafts, which unfortunately will not be utilized for travel and the beauty of flying through the air, but instead war.
But, while the story does feature the war, Nazis, and other dark subjects, it also has that Forrest Gump element of having a likable lead, and him being surrounded by characters who are all comical in their own way. Be it his boss Kurokawa (Martin Short), whose look alone could draw laughter; his best friend Honjo (John Krasinski) who gets laughs due to his cigarette addiction; or even Jiro’s little sister Kayo (Mae Whitman) who is constantly on her brother’s case for not being as attentive, or around, as she likes. Also, there is a love interest, Naoko (Emily Blunt), and with her inclusion, it makes the film, and Jiro’s story, seem more than “Historical Fiction” to the point if someone didn’t tell you this was simply based off Jiro Horikoshi’s life, you’d believe this was a true ode to the man.
As noted in the story summary, this film covers a lifetime and through the various characters and stories within, keeps you interested during the 2-hour film. I would dare even say that after watching a movie like this, I can’t see why biopics of the future couldn’t be done if not in Studio Ghibli’s style, then the more technological dependent methods. And speaking of style, Miyazaki’s love for traditional animation is seen in such splendor in this film. From little things like the way water or flowers move, to the giant sized teardrops, everything has Miyazaki’s signature style on it, and the story is no different.
Like with the film’s ability to make you cry, get excited, and really twists your emotions almost as if done on whim. For, between the lovable Jiro, his love interest Naoko, and his various friends and family members, I don’t think you can even say that live action characters all get as well developed to the point you genuinely miss them when they are gone, and get excited when they return to the screen.
And the last thing I really liked was it felt like a love letter to not just Jiro, but Japan as well. Most of Miyazaki’s films are placed in some sort of fantasy world so while they do borrow from Japanese culture, they aren’t immersed in it. This film, however, presents Japan, its culture, and history through Jiro in a way which may not break things down to the point you can understand the whys and hows, but you get a good enough idea to be intrigued enough to do your own research.
For me, there are only minor issues with the film. The first being that the time length is felt & noticeable. Outside of that, I would note that some of the sound used in the film, especially the early parts, sound a bit strange. I’m not sure if they were made from human bodies or archive records but either way, the sounds used are strange enough to take you out of being immersed, if just temporarily.
Overall: Worth Seeing
Due to the length, I would probably wait until it comes out on VOD/ DVD, but even with that said I think this is definitely worth seeing if you are a fan of animation. For, like Scorsese’s Hugo, this is very much a love letter to a pioneer and the love letter also extends, in my opinion, to the country Miyazaki calls home. And with memorable characters, good laughs, a nice romantic plot, and a story which really makes you feel something, I can’t recommend this enough. Also, I believe this should win the Academy Award.
“Is that your heart or your ego talking?”
— The Wind Rises