Early in Hayao Miyazaki’s latest—and probably final—film, an earthquake strikes Tokyo. The earth buckles and writhes, rippling like a belly dancer’s abdomen. It’s a remarkably moving scene, both for its raw kinetic energy and for the clear sense of physical and human destruction. Alas, the rest of The Wind Rises, even as it showcases Miyazaki’s painterly hand-drawn animation, isn’t nearly so dynamic. And that’s in spite of a story that revolves around flight, the based-on-truth tale of an ace aeronautical engineer named Jiro. Born in 1903, Jiro’s devotion to airplanes gets him unwillingly swept up in the war machine: He travels to Germany to meet Nazi engineers and helps build machines that, no matter how beautiful, are designed to kill. There’s an interesting tension here between technology and totalitarianism, but Jiro is so thinly developed—he’s a genius at work and a sweet husband to his consumptive wife at home—that the question quickly evaporates. The film has a lovely melancholy, but that feels largely due to Miyazaki’s impending departure from cinema. He’ll be missed, even if The Wind Rises is a bumpy ride.
Critic’s Grade: B-
SEE IT: The Wind Rises is rated PG-13. It opens Friday at Fox Tower, Lloyd Center, Clackamas, Bridgeport, Cedar Hills.