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An epic way to say 'goodbye'

 Posted: 2:00 AM March 27, 2014

Hayao Miyazaki has said that "The Wind Rises," his 11th animated feature film, will be his last. He will retire, feeling he can no longer devote the long days nor the four years to create each of his films.

If that's true, if he does indeed carry through on his promise, this gorgeous, lovingly rendered film may be his last hand-drawn work, absent any use of CGI, each frame lush and rich and meticulously created, the detail astonishing. It is something to behold.

For his final character, Miyazaki has not chosen a fanciful subject that would appeal to children. Instead, he chose the story of one Jiro Horikoshi (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) who, as a boy and a young man, is consumed by the idea of flight. Near-sighted, and hence unable to become a pilot, he decides to become an aeronautical engineer, his wish only to create "something beautiful." He dreams not only of planes rising high into pearlescent clouds and soaring across a cobalt sky, but he also dreams of Giovanni Caproni, the gifted Italian aircraft designer who, in effect, mentors Jiro and tells him that "airplanes are not for war or making money. Airplanes are beautiful dreams."

And for Jiro, so they are. But Miyazaki's final opus is also a depiction of Japan's troika of pre-WWII chronic afflictions: desperately poor and in the depths of a depression, compounded by the massive Kanto earthquake of 1923 that took 140,000 lives in the initial quake and the firestorm that followed, and devastated as well by a tuberculosis epidemic that swept the country. Japan was a country on the brink.

That is the context created in the narrative in which Jiro goes to work as an engineer for Mitsubishi in Tokyo and uses his brilliance to design and build those "beautiful dreams."

What he doesn't realize is that Japan's military is concerned with Jiro's vision and talent only as it pertains to developing a plane that will eventually become the A6M Zero, an aircraft that will one day appear over Pearl Harbor, and thereby signal the beginning of a leveling, scorched-Earth war with the United States. Jiro's dream, framed in innocence and idealism, becomes a vehicle of destruction.

Though Miyasaki implies in the film that Japan is growing increasingly militaristic (while its people are starving), he chooses instead to fully focus on a love story between Jiro and the lovely Naoko Satomi (Emily Blunt), who he had met early on in the film when the train they are both traveling on to Tokyo was derailed in the earthquake. Years later, they meet once again at a mountain hotel and renew their acquaintance, which grows into a tender, compassionate love story.

The title of the film, "The Wind Rises," is taken from the novel "The Wind Has Risen," written in 1937 by Tatsuro Hori in which he quotes a poem by Paul Valery that says, in part, "The wind rises. We must try to live." And it is those words that begin and end this lyrical work of art, imminently beautiful and poetic and created by the premier master of Japanese anime, Hayao Miyazaki.

May he change his mind.

Divergent

After watching "Divergent," two things readily come to mind: In the last several years a bevy of films starring strong female leads have taken center stage. Consider Bella Swan in the "Twilight" series — and, of course, there is Katniss Everdeen of "The Hunger Games," and now Tris Prior, starring in the just released "Divergent."

Like "The Hunger Games" and "Twilight," "Divergent" is based on a series, in this case written by Veronica Roth (17 million in print), and the similarities are obvious. Both take place in a dystopian future, and both feature strong young women faced with almost insurmountable odds.

"Divergent" is set in a post-apocalyptic Chicago, where people are divided into five factions depending on their personalities. Tris (Shaileen Woodley), at 16, chooses to join Dauntless, a warrior faction, and enters a type of boot camp where she is severely tested. And where she meets Four (Theo James), the narrative's romantic interest.

While "Divergent" may mirror "The Hunger Games," it is still solidly engaging and well acted. Of course, suspension of disbelief is required. But nevertheless, if you can accept the premise, the film will more than engage.


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