Beloved animator Hayao Miyazaki has announced this as his final feature, which means The Wind Rises ought to be arriving on a parade float of acclaim, buoyed by pastel clouds and pulled by a collection of amazing imaginary creatures. And yes, the movie’s snagged an Oscar nomination for Best Animated Feature (Miyazaki won for 2001’s Spirited Away) and good reviews. But the valedictory lap has been slowed a bit by puzzled rumblings about the film’s subject, which—while loose enough to allow for fantastical sequences—is rooted in historical reality. On the one hand, a biographical study of engineer and airplane designer Jiro Horikoshi sounds like a great match for Miyazaki’s wistful style: It allows for beautiful flying sequences and perhaps some self-portraiture in its study of a detail-minded dreamer who assembles his creations from a combination of math-based design and pure imagination.
The problem? Horikoshi’s masterpiece was the Zero, Japan’s lethally efficient World War II fighter plane.