I hope the more avid fans of Miyazaki and anime will forgive me for using the English titles in this blog post; they come more naturally to me and, I assume, most of my readers.
The image that appears later in this post was taken from the Ghibli wiki at nausicaa.net.
Hayao Miyazaki is one of my favorite filmmakers and one of my biggest influences, not just in my writing, but in my philosophy. From the first time I watched Princess Mononoke, I was in love with the animation and storytelling. I’d never seen anything like it before. I still haven’t. Even the other Studio Ghibli films (all of which consist of unparalleled quality, and all of which I thoroughly enjoy) aren’t quite on the same plane as Miyazaki’s personally-directed projects. (Credit must be given to Isao Takahata, whose films come close, and special mention to Hiromasa Yonebayashi, whose film The Secret World of Arrietty is wonderful; as well as Gorō Miyazaki, who directed Tales From Earthsea, one of my least-favorite Ghibli films, then went on to direct From Up on Poppy Hill, one of my favorites.)
I don’t know that I had ever cared for fictional characters as much as I cared for the ones in Princess Mononoke. It was particularly interesting to me that I was not presented with a “bad guy”, but with a large cast of characters who happened to have conflicting agendas, and sometimes do bad things. Even one of the central characters, Ashitaka, has a momentary lapse in his otherwise peaceful, nonviolent nature: “If it would lift the curse, I’d let it tear you apart.” The film’s characters are more than believable, they are alive.
Spirited Away made a big splash in America, winning the Oscar for Best Animated Feature. This film is probably the best example of one of the things that makes Miyazaki’s films so enjoyable. Taking place in a bathhouse for spirits, you can watch the movie a hundred times, and every time, you’ll notice something new, some minuscule detail placed in the background or hiding within a few frames. Hundreds of spirits go about their daily lives, and when you watch the film you can piece together countless untold stories. The film is a snapshot of characters that, while fictional, never cease to be real.
Howl’s Moving Castle is one of my favorite Miyazaki films, and I bought Ponyo the day it came out on DVD. Despite all of this, I had never seen one of his movies in the theater until last night. I’m glad to have had the experience; The Wind Rises is currently slated to be his last.
I’m not going to say a lot about the movie. One reason for this is that it just came out in America last night, and not a lot of people have had the opportunity to see it yet. The other reason is that I don’t believe I can adequately convey my experience in watching the film. For every time I laughed, every glint of light across an airplane’s wings, every flake of snow drifting into a young woman’s sleeping bag, every puff of smoke blown from a character’s cigarette, one thought kept coming back into my mind: This is the last one he’ll make.
Almost every film Hayao Miyazaki has directed features a scene where characters take flight. It’s only fitting that his last film carry the wind as a theme. More than this, the wind is an ever-present character in the movie. It appears in almost every scene, drifting smoke or curtains in the background, or carrying a parasol and changing a character’s life forever. I think this speaks to Miyazaki’s talent: The wind is invisible, but that couldn’t stop him from making an animated movie about it.
I would like to see the film in its original Japanese someday, but I’m thankful for the care and talent put in by the English cast. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is one of my favorite actors, and I couldn’t have hoped for a better person to carry the film. John Krasinski, Emily Blunt, Stanley Tucci, Martin Short, Werner Herzog, William H. Macy, and Mae Whitman round out the supporting cast, and each does a fantastic job giving a voice to Miyazaki’s wonderful characters. Sound designer Gary Rydstrom has done a fantastic job on the English adaptations of many Studio Ghibli films, and I’m thankful that such care is taken to bring the movies into a new language while keeping the story and interactions between characters intact.
I can’t describe the joy I would feel if Miyazaki were to again come out of retirement and announce a new film. It wouldn’t surprise me; some people never quit. They slow down, they take breaks, but they’re always working on something, there’s always another thing calling to them, begging to be shared with the world. Hayao Miyazaki strikes me as that type of person. But if it never happens, if The Wind Rises really is his last film, I can accept that. With a heavy heart but a smile on my face, I would understand and accept it.