"Airplanes are beautiful dreams," says Caproni, an Italian airship designer who periodically drops into the daydream fantasies of a young Japanese student, Jiro, to offer advice and support in Hayao Miyazaki's announced final animated feature, "The Wind Rises."
This is an ambitiously epic movie flooded with dreams, all about dreams, with dreamy animation that resembles watercolor paintings compared with the harder, more metallic look of recent 3-D computer-generated animation.
Gorgeous, for sure, but a bit taken with its own importance, perhaps, and that translates into a slow-going historical trek that occasionally loses its narrative airspeed.
It follows Jiro, a young man prevented from becoming a pilot by nearsightedness, so he becomes an airplane designer. Through Jiro, we witness historical events, such as the earthquake and typhoon that devastated parts of Japan in 1923.
Then the country gets hit with the Great Depression and a tuberculosis epidemic before World War II. These sweeping events form a backdrop for Jiro's ascending importance in the war effort, and his romance with a childhood chum Nahoko, now a radiant young woman.
Jiro is based on real-life aviation engineer Jiro Horikoshi, who designed Japan's "Zero" fighter plane, yet the movie takes a mostly neutral stand toward the war, preferring to concentrate on Jiro's optimistic boyhood flights of fantasy slowly being tempered by real-world nightmares.
"The Wind Rises" is an Oscar nominee for Best Animated Feature.
Note: I previewed "The Wind Rises" in Japanese with English subtitles. An English-language version has been created with Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Jiro, Stanley Tucci as Caproni and Emily Blunt as Nahoko. Reportedly, the English language version is the one being shown at the Century Centre in Chicago starting this weekend.
"The Wind Rises" (from a quote by Paul Valery, "The wind is rising! We must try to live!") will expand to other theaters next week. Rated PG-13 for violence and smoking. 126 minutes. ★ ★ ★ ½