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Videophiled: ‘The Wind Rises’ for Hayao Miyazaki’s swan song

The Wind Rises (Disney, Blu-ray, VOD) – Hayao Miyazaki is a national treasure in Japan, the director of beloved animated features and a filmmaker dedicated to preserving the art of hand-drawn animation. The Wind Rises, which was released in 2013 and earned an Oscar nomination as Best Animated Feature, was a passion project for the director and a fitting swan song. The grand old man of Japanese animation has retired and this film, not a fantasy or mythical adventure but a delicate biographical drama about an idealistic engineer devoted to making “beautiful airplanes” for a country he knows will use them as instruments of war, is his final feature. Jiro comes of age in 1920s Japan and through him we experience the 1923 earthquake, the great Tokyo fire, and the crippling depression, as well as the growing militarism that takes hold of the country and the culture; at one point, the pacifist Jiro comes close to becoming a victim of Japan’s version of the communist witch-hunt.

The film was both celebrated and criticized in Japan, where some accused the film of whitewashing the militarism that sent the country into occupying Manchuria and then into World War II. Perhaps they felt that Miyazaki wasn’t more strident in his condemnation of that culture but he does surely confront and criticize it, albeit with a tone of regret and resignation. Jiro, who works in the aviation division of Mitsubishi, is an artist who dreams of flight (his eyesight prevents him from becoming a pilot) and channels his love into creating the next generation of airplanes, but is trapped in a military culture that demands he design a fighter plane. Somehow he never loses his idealism and his humanism.

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Castles in the Sky: Ten Films from Studio Ghibli

Castles in the Sky: Miyazaki, Takahata and the Masters of Studio Ghibli , a retrospective celebrating the great animation studio of Japan, kicks off on Friday, June 22 at The Uptown.

The series features 15 films from Ghibli, the studio created by animation master Hayao Miyazaki, on 35mm film and plays for two weeks at The Uptown. I profiled the series for Seattle Weekly here. As a  companion piece, I offer thumbnails notes on ten standout films in the series. See SIFF Cinema for the complete schedule.

Castle in the Sky

Nausicaa Of The Valley Of The Wind (1984) – Hayao Miyazaki’s second feature and the feature debut of Studio Ghibli. Set on a faraway world of medieval castles and massive airships and splintered kingdoms, the story from Miyazaki follows an adventurous young princess who discovers the secret of the toxic jungle that spews poisonous pollen and breeds giant angry insects and the cure for her world, still recovering from a global war 1,000 years ago that almost destroyed the planet. Miyazaki’s fabulous images are full of a sense of wonder and his animation style is glorious and graceful. It’s a simple tale with a plucky heroine that became a hallmark of Miyazaki’s later films, and the themes (and even some of the story elements) would be revisited with greater complexity and resonance in Princess Mononoke. (Thursday, June 28)

Castle in the Sky (1986) is a grand adventure from Miyazaki’s private mythos, the odyssey of an orphaned girl with a magic crystal and a courageous young engineer’s apprentice is set in a world of magnificent flying machines and sky-born cities. Chased by a wacky pirate family and shifty, suspicious government agents, it all converges on the legendary floating castle of Laputa, an ancient civilization in the clouds which holds the key to great power. (Friday, June 22 and Monday, June 25)

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