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Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki's The Wind Rises 

Nahoko in "The Wind Rises"

Photo courtesy of Studio Ghibli

Nahoko in "The Wind Rises"

The Wind Rises is being touted as Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki's final film, but the 73-year-old has been hinting that he may not be out of the anime game just yet.

Fans of Miyazaki and the films of his Studio Ghibli animation house know that he's called it quits more times than Leno. The last time he said he was done was when he released Princess Mononoke in 1997, only to go back to the drawing board with the Oscar-winning Spirited Away in 2001.

Semi-retirement possibilities aside, Rises does evince a feeling of finality. And given that it's one of those rare Miyazaki films with its feet firmly planted in the real world—no strange but cute creatures or adorable kids with magical powers here, folks—there is this sense that Miyazaki is both serious and going for broke, throwing all the tricks in his repertoire out there one last time.

Miyazaki adapts his own biographical manga Kaze Tachinu, which focused on aircraft designer Jiro Horikoshi, who worked on the Mitsubishi A5M and A6M Zero planes used by Japan in World War II. The film opens when Horikoshi is a head-in-the-clouds teenager who dreams of building magnificent flying machines. We follow Horikoshi (voiced by Joseph Gordon-Levitt) as a young designer who builds his dream flying machines, which are used for death and destruction.

As much of a sharply hand-drawn biopic as Rises is, it feels more personal than other Miyazaki films. Miyazaki sees a lot of himself in Horikoshi, a fellow ambitious dreamer who wanted to make proud, beautiful work in a harsh world. Miyazaki also finds room for a years-spanning love story between Horikoshi and a girl he saves after an earthquake, a welcome reminder of his classical and sentimental side. With this subplot (which is loosely based on the Japanese short story The Wind Has Risen), the movie goes from being a biopic to the sort of old-school wartime weepie that was all the rage in the '30s and '40s.

Saying Rises is a greatest-hits collection of Miyazaki's career-defining themes seems condescending. If anything, the movie feels more like a comprehensive compendium of what Miyazaki has offered audiences throughout the years. Even if you've never seen any of his films, you get all the biggies here—from Miyazaki's fascination with trains and flying to his sentiments on war and pacifism. If The Wind Rises is indeed Miyazaki's last hurrah, he goes out on a graceful, all-encompassing note.

This article appeared in print with the headline "Running against the wind."

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