Is Hayao Miyazaki Gone With The Wind?

If the world's most esteemed director of animated features really is retiring, he goes out on a soaring note with 'The Wind Rises'

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Mario Anzuoni / Reuters

Japanese director Hayao Miyazaki in Los Angeles, July 28, 2009.

The news hit the Venice Film Festival like an unexpected death notice: Hayao Miyazaki, the world’s most honored creator of animated features, was ending his movie career. “Miyazaki has decided that The Wind Rises will be his last film, and he will now retire,” Koji Hoshino, who runs the director’s Studio Ghibli, announced at a press conference for The Wind Rises, which received its European premiere here yesterday.

The movie has already earned more than $80 million since its July 20 release in Japan, where Miyazaki is a box-office phenomenon as well as a national treasure. His last four films — Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away, Howl’s Moving Castle and Ponyo — have grossed about $700 million in his homeland, and $871 million including foreign markets. Miyazaki is expected to speak about his decision in Tokyo later this week.

Moviemaking, which requires a general’s gift for strategy and a foot soldier’s fortitude, is supposed to be a young man’s game. Miyazaki is 72, the age by which CEOs have slipped into wealthy anonymity; so he deserves a gold watch for his sunset years. But filmmakers, like other artists, often keep going as long as they find sponsors for the things they want to show and tell. This year’s Venice festival boasts world premieres from two other 72-year-olds, Stephen Frears (Philomena) and Terry Gilliam (The Zero Theorem), plus a documentary on the Polish leader Lech Walesa that was directed by Andzrej Wajda, a robust 87.

(READ: Mary Corliss’s Venice review of Stephen Frears’ Philomena)

Wajda is a pup compared with Leni Riefenstahl, the German genius behind the ’30s documentaries Triumph of the Will and Olympia, who released a new film about SCUBA diving on her 100th birthday, in 2002; or with the Portuguese master Manoel de Oliveira, who made his first film in 1931 and is now preparing another feature — at 104! Among Miyazaki’s compatriots, Akira Kurosawa continued making films into his 80s, Kon Ichikawa into his 90s. For all these auteurs, putting their pictures on the screen wasn’t a job; it was their life.

But if Miyazaki, who in 2003 won an Oscar for Spirited Away, really wants to hang it up, he couldn’t have picked a more piquant swan song. The Wind Rises — its title taken from Paul Valéry’s poem Le Cimetière marin (“The wind is rising! We must try to live!”) — weaves a tender, tragic love story into two volcanic decades of Japanese history, from 1918 to the end of the ’30s. Here are indelible images of the great Kantō earthquake of 1923, and the firestorms that devoured whole cities and killed perhaps 140,000 people. Here is the Depression that wracked Japan while its government spent millions buying weapons from Nazi Germany.

In his first film intended primarily for grownups, Miyazaki has courted political controversy, in his home country and now abroad. The director’s protagonist, whom he portrays as a visionary dreamer, is Jirô Horikoshi, designer of the Mitsubishi A6M “Zero” fighter planes that crushed the Chinese resistance to Imperial Japan in the late 1930s and, on Dec. 7 in the year of Miyazaki’s birth, dropped the bombs on Pearl Harbor.

(READ: Kirk Spitzer’s report on the Japanese controversy over The Wind Rises)

The movie is actually a double bio-pic: of Horikoshi, whose life it follows from youth through university to his work at Mitsubishi, with a brief coda after World War II, and of the author Tatsuo Hori, whose 1937 novel The Wind Has Risen tells of a tubercular girl at a sanitarium; Hori died in 1953, at 48, of TB. His life and works inform the character of Naoko Satomi, the young woman who becomes Jirô’s wife. (In the film, Hideaki Anno, director of the Evangelion anime films, lends his voice to the adult Jirô; actress Miori Takimoto voices Naoko.)

Miyazaki has long poured his fascination with all things airborne into his movies. The 1986 Castle in the Sky pits flying pirates against the citizens of a magical floating realm. Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989) gave its 13-year-old witch the job of delivering parcels by broomstick. Another species of air pirates patrol Porco Rosso (1992), this time doing battle with an Italian aviation ace whom a magic spell has transformed into a pig. The young heroine of Howl’s Moving Castle (2004) is the portable flying house of a mysterious birdman. All these films proclaim that man, like birds, was meant to soar, and that the sky, not the Earth, is our true home.

(READ: Richard Corliss’s review of Hayao Miyazaki’s Howl’s Moving Castle)

The director has said that The Wind Rises was inspired by a quote of Horikoshi’s: “All I wanted to do was to make something beautiful.” Miyazaki often achieves just that, in a film that parades its beauty from its amazing first scene. The young Jirô climbs to the roof of his home and finds a plane parked there. Lured by its colorful avian design — white wings, blue feathers, a red tail, pink wheels and a yellow nose — Jirô scoots aboard this metallic bird for a lovely jaunt, until shadowed by a huge dirigible carrying dozens of military aircraft; the boy falls from the sky and awakes in his bed. The whole film is a series of flights and falls, airy ambitions that crash-dive into compromise and tragedy.

Stark history and buoyant fantasy often link arms in The Wind Rises. An aircraft buff from youth, Jirô imagines encounters with Giovanni Caproni (voiced by Mansai Nomura), who in 1911 built the first Italian plane, and was the model for the Italian flyer-designer in Porco Rosso. Caproni serves as Jirô’s spiritual guide, telling the boy that “The whole world’s a dream.” He looks forward to the advent of commercial aviation: “Instead of bombs, we’ll carry passengers.” (But his first attempt — essentially a cruise ship lifted by nine sets of wings — crashes.) When Caproni says, “Inspiration unlocks the future; technology will catch up,” he might be anticipating the untrammeled dreams of directors like James Cameron, Ang Lee and Alfonso Cuarón nearly a century later.

(READ: Richard Corliss’s Venice review of Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity

In the age of digital animation (and live action), Miyazaki has remained faithful to the hand-drawn technique — the Disney style — that predated Pixar’s CGI. Indeed, his human figures are abstracted into giant-eyed doll faces and stiff legs, as if walking clumsily on stilts. Even the adult Jirô looks like any anime child; and when he stumbles to the ground, his hands and feet make no visible impression on the grass.

Most of the director’s grace goes into the landscapes: rural vistas rendered in the most delicate pastels, like the watercolors Naoko paints during Jirô’s courtship of her. In a hard land heading to a war that the sensitive Jirô, Miyazaki makes sure the views are ravishing. His perfect metaphor for a Japan straddling the old world and the new: the planes he designed are pulled onto the practice field by teams of oxen.

(READ: Richard Corliss’s review of Hayao Miyazaki’s Ponyo)

This exquisite paint-brushing, or whitewashing, extends to Jirô’s visits to Germany, to gauge their military-aircraft ingenuity against his, and to his development of the Zero prototype. And when Miyazaki might start addressing the consequences of Horikoshi’s creations, he leaves the Mitsubishi factory to concentrate on the Jirô-Naoki love story. Staying with his wife to comfort her in her illness, he jokes that, “In a one-hand slide-rule contest, I’d finish first” — because, while working at home, he always holds her hand. Their devotion is heart-strong and constant; as Naoki says, “I’ve loved you since the wind brought you to me.” Their scenes together are sweet and touching. But this last half-hour of the two-hour film might have considered the impact of Jirô’s Zero. It was a beautiful machine that helped tyrannical Japan dream of conquering the world, and that brought death more swiftly to its enemies.

Whatever the political implications of a movie that glamorizes and elegizes the makers of war, The Wind Rises shows Miyazaki at his most confident. The film betrays no hint of sapping energy, let alone senility; it is vigorous, subtle, daring and gorgeous. May his announced retirement be a brief, dark whim. May he go on enchanting and challenging moviegoers for years to come.

56 comments
Annie梓轩
Annie梓轩

He is my favorite  creator of animated features.I can't imagine what kind of anime would I see after his retirement.He is a legendary figure.Maybe many people think that his movies have been outmoded for the 3D movies being so prevalent.But in my opinion,he is the best in all times.I hope that I would see the film The Wind Rises sooner in China.

1120102217

mailin.wong
mailin.wong

This man is a genius, and in my opinion the finest animator in all times!

semakarac
semakarac

@reyhanguner ++miyazaki Ponyo'dan önce de aynı şeyi söylemişti, dayanamadı yine film çekti. Endişeye mahal yok derim ben;)

semakarac
semakarac

@reyhanguner reyhanım öldü gibi anlaşıldı sanırım ama "film kariyerini bitirme" kararı sadece...Ben bunu ciddiye almıyorum ama,niye dersen++

sayakomnm
sayakomnm

@TIME Hayo? Manga? This article not only has inaccurate info about Miyazaki's work, but also doesn't understand the themes in any of them.

MarkPenrice
MarkPenrice

(Though maybe I'm being unfair ... this review actually seems alright, barring a couple of terminological slips ... right up until that last paragraph anyway. And way to go on missing out Nausicäa from the list of aeronautically obsessed films, even though HMC is left in... never mind it being an utterly central, essential feature of the former movie (not for nothing was it butchered into "Warriors of the Wind"; probably a good 50% or more of the screentime is spent aloft) but little more than a passing fancy in the latter...)

MarkPenrice
MarkPenrice

Miyazaki "retires" about once every ten years on average. He's a dyed in the wool creator, I doubt he'll REALLY stop until either his joints freeze up from arthritis or the reaper plucks the last breath from his lungs :)

And I must say, given just the comparitive trailers for Poppy Hill and TWR, he's still got a greater spark in him than his son does...

As for the "controversy" side, the events of this film happened literally a lifetime ago now. I think it may be time to let it lie and just see it as a regular docu-drama or biopic, of which many have been made about quite widely-hated public figures. The designer of a plane who just wanted it to be used to defend his rather fragile-seeming country, who (the trailer suggests) dies in a rather bloody way as a result? I'm not sure it's a million miles removed from "The First Of The Few", an old BW movie about the designer of the Spitfire who also lived in an island nation, and had similar goals. Except in this case it's not been made a mere 10-15 years after the relevant conflict had ended, and isn't full of the spirit of merry jingoism that sees all the enemy troops as mere evil minded cannon fodder minions.

Hayao, let us bear in mind, has previous when it comes to showing all sides of a multifaceted story, even when deadly conflict is involved (at least as far back as Nausicäa, and at least as recently as Howl's Moving Castle). And although it was Takahata that ultimately made Grave of the Fireflies, it came from the same studio - there would have been at least informal discussion and idea-swapping about it. He may have an obsession with warplanes, especially old propeller-driven, wooden-framed ones, but that's by no means the same as being convinced that warfare is a good thing, or your own country was automatically right even though they lost and have been unfavourably judged by history as a result.

Tagave
Tagave

@thefoxjumps Yeah, lots of controversy about this in Japan. It's probably the other way around.

theEdwardJC
theEdwardJC

@TIME "anime" "Hayao" and no it doesn't glorify atrocities. America caused any atrocities during this war. Ignorant, and rude tweet. SMFH

Jaiter77
Jaiter77

@TIME This text started strong but took a real *nosedive* at the end. Miyazaki's pacifist vibe *flew* over the head of the article's writer.

ZergNavy
ZergNavy

@TIME anybody else love how they deleted several comments?! Haha Time you've outdone yourselves. What a joke.

alyjarrett
alyjarrett

@TIME seriously?!! "Hayo?" "manga?" Talk about lazy and offensive. Think before you tweet! -- sincerely, a fellow social media admin

Clincho
Clincho

@TIME C'mon,you drop 2 nuke bombs in Japan,war atrocity?

NobumasaOhta
NobumasaOhta

Corrections:

・・・Japan<ese  government spent millions buying weapons from Nazi Germany・・・

Replace Japan by Nationalist China.

・・・Mitsubishi A6M “Zero” fighter planes that crushed the Chinese resistance in the late 1930s・・・・

Incorrect. Zero was introduced in 1940.

・・・that helpedtyrannical Japan dream of conquering the world・・・

→that helped resist white/Christian supremacist America's intervention on Japan's deterrence stragegy

against Soviet Russia.

yoitabiwo
yoitabiwo

Congrats for your decision of retiring and Thank you for your inspiring works, Miya-san.

Anyway, the hand-drawn technique is not the "Disney" style, and even if it's true, it's not anymore. It's his own, uniquely "Studio Ghibli's style." I don't understand why you need to mention Disney here. 

CriswellMason
CriswellMason

@mrjakeparker I know its so sad.. such an inspiration to us all, kaze tachinu looks like it will be great though

reyhanguner
reyhanguner

@semakarac Yok yahu, bırakacak olmasına üzülmüştüm lakin teselli çabuk yetişti(: Teşekkürler Miss Karaca!

CarissaFei
CarissaFei

@AustinMovieSnob @TheChewDefense 

Well both manga and anime have been used synonymous throughout the fan community because everyone is mixing both of them as styles from Japan. Manga means whimisical pictures or flowing pictures because the monks would draw pictures that feel as they were moving themeselve.  Though I found out in ImagineFX, the kanji was changed to mean 1000 styles. Anime is shorten for animation, because anime could of derived from the french word anime. My Japanese teacher from one college class also said anime but she wasn't reffering to a style, she was referring to a picture that is moving. Plus the fact anime is mostly written in Katakana if written without a kanji, which Katakana is for foreign words only, meaning Anime is a foreign concept. 

To westerners, both either way, it means mostly a style that comes from japan that is mostly animation and comics and most will recognized it as one and the other respectively. But to the Japanese and other people, it doesn't matter really. Even powerpuff girls is an anime because they are moving pictures. 

semakarac
semakarac

@reyhanguner ben tşk ederim reyhanım. Bi de şu an o miss lafı öyle güzel geldi ki gözüme, yakında olsan kafanı severdim;) iyi geceler dostum

Froncentrate
Froncentrate

@Fourside_Seven Hell, Miyazaki gets called a traitor by rightists for being anti-war and about Japan making amends for WWII.

Froncentrate
Froncentrate

@Fourside_Seven. The entire movie is blatantly anti-war. Miyazaki was uncomfortable coming to America to accept his oscar because Iraq.

Movie_Doc
Movie_Doc

@AustinMovieSnob In a totally unrelated case of dyslexia, for a while I thought the U.T. football kicker's name was Dusty Magnum, not Mangum