I'm so excited - I just saw that there's a Studio Ghibli review-a-thon going on at Anime News Network. I can't wait to relive my favorite Miyazaki movies through their reviews! The first one is on his latest (and supposedly "final" - though he has protested that characterization) creation - The Wind Rises. Like in many of his other animated masterpieces, Hayao Miyazaki once again took my breath away with this one. Here's the synopsis from ANN: "A fictionalized biopic about the life and engineering legacy of Jiro Horikoshi, the man who created the fearsome, renowned 'Zero' warplane (and its predecessor) in Japan during World War II. Jiro's single-minded drive to create the most beautiful and technically advanced airplane he can conceive complicates his marriage to the sickly Nahoko, who is dying of tuberculosis while Jiro is creating his world-changing masterpiece of aviation." That's pretty much a statement of the facts of the plot, but it doesn't quite communicate the magic, the tenderness, the aspirations and the delicately but fiercely beautiful way in which Miyazaki told the story of dreamers, makers and their hardships. Here are some highlights from their review: "The Wind Rises is likely the most complicated film in the Studio Ghibli oeuvre, largely because it operates with varying success on a number of levels: at its most basic, it's a fictionalized version of the life and accomplishments of Jiro Horikoshi, creator of the Zero. On another level, it's a film about artists, their purpose and place in the world (particularly during wartime), run through with complex, often ambiguous themes that will have different meanings and impact for different audiences depending on which side of the war they happened to be on. Thirdly, and perhaps most concretely, it is living animation legend, artistic titan and colossal grump Hayao Miyazaki's bold punctuation at the end of his career, a direct and daring commentary about himself and his life's work." Well put! However, I really have to disagree with this next part: "Taken purely on its face, the film is a functional, albeit predictable, biopic in the vein of something like Walk the Line, with a dash of "here's a slice of the most important years in this Great Man's life" a'la Spielberg's Lincoln with some fictional elements tossed in for dramatic and thematic flavor." The last word I would ever use to describe this film, or any other Miyazaki film, is "fuctional." I also disagree with this: "We're given a tour of the hardships of the time en route to montage sequences of airplane creation and refinement, with the occasional fantasy sequence meant to illustrate the way Jiro's high-flying genius brain crystallizes the cacophony of mathematics and slide rulers in front of him into the simple elegance of flawless aerodynamics. On the sidelines is his long-suffering (and completely fictional) tuberculosis wife, Nahoko, who isn't given anything to do but get sick, be tragic, and show us how tortured Jiro is about all of that even as he misses the end of her short life due to his obsession. As a portrait of a man, The Wind Rises functions on the same competent, watchable level as all those Oscar-bait movies previously mentioned; it's largely pleasant and pretty, Werner Herzog shows up, and maybe you'll learn a thing or two about a time, a place, and an important person. Cue the Academy Award acceptance speech and then it's off to repeats on cable TV." I have to say that I find those claims kind of reductive - they strips the movie of all of its style, nuance and appeal and make it seem boring and ordinary. For example: "with the occasional fantasy sequence meant to illustrate the way Jiro's high-flying genius brain crystallizes the cacophony of mathematics and slide rulers in front of him into the simple elegance of flawless aerodynamics." I think many of us can agree that Miyazaki's mastery of synthesizing and interweaving the fantastic and the real is a lot more finessed and complex than merely splicing in the "occasional fantasy sequence." I do like this observation: "The most repeated image in the film mirrors the most common images of Miyazaki himself - hunched over a desk or a drafting table, mind lost in perfectionism. In that sense The Wind Rises is heartbreakingly honest. It's a picture of a living legend whose work is beloved the world over but at the end of it all - and this is Miyazaki's final theatrical film - he looks at his hands and asks "what have I done?". There's no sense in wallowing in depression, says The Wind Rises. In the end, Hayao Miyazaki tells himself to live. He created beautiful things - what the world chose to do with them can't be his concern. The endcap to a storied career by a painfully self-reflective artist, The Wind Rises is wounded and personal - it's auteur theory incarnate." As the author Zac Bertschy points out, "As a film, the importance of The Wind Rises as an artist's final statement about their work really can't be overstated. As a monolithic figure in anime history, Miyazaki is second only to Osamu Tezuka, who to my knowledge never released a final manga that commented directly on his own life's work. (...) Here you have a creative titan opening his somber heart to you and sharing his pathos before he crosses over into history, knowing he'll be remembered for centuries or longer. It is arguably the most significant film in his career if you're focusing on his contribution to the world as a whole. Now and forever, there can be no discussion of Hayao Miyazaki without an extensive focus on The Wind Rises and what it meant, and that in and of itself elevates the movie to a role of profound importance." There's a lot more to the review, which I linked here. I encourage you to read the rest of it, and let me know here whether you agree! If you haven't seen it - then let me advise you to do that...immediately!